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What does 360p, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p mean? Really?

Answers:1   |   LastAnswerAt:2011.03  

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Asked at 2011.03.28 21:09:51
First off, I'm not a total tech nooby or oblivious. I have a somewhat high tech understanding but I'm only 18 and haven't taken courses in anything relative to computers.

This is what I know so far.
360p - Low quality ( Unsure. ???x360 )
480p - Medium quality ( Unsure. 720x480? )
720p - High quality ( 1280x720 )
1080i - High quality ( 1900x1080 ) -Interlaced
1080p - Highest at-home quality ( 1900x1080 )

With that being known, here is the important part.

I bought a TV about 2 years ago. It was a 26" Samsung HDTV advertised at 720p resolution.
My computer monitor had a problem with the VGA input so I decided to see what it would look like if I hooked my computer up to my screen and ditch my monitor with a damaged plug. Needless to say, the TV looked terrible. I was very disappointed at how the quality looked. I did know that LCD screens need to be set to their native resolution to look good, so I set the resolution to 1280x720 thinking that was correct as it was labeled 720p. This lead to a bad picture and ultimately me not using it as a monitor and being disappointed.

I then decided I should get an HDMI cable for my monitor and see if that fixed my monitor's problem (Horizontal Banding / LCD Rainbows) and it did. After this fix, I had a spare VGA cable laying around and a TV just in range of using a dual-monitor setup without paying any money for it. I figured even if the quality was bad, it was worth plugging in right? Well. I'm glad I did but at the time it wasn't that great.

I just found out that the resolution on it is not 1280x720, it is in fact 1680x1050 which is a lot nicer than the 1280x720 I thought it was. The only thing that gave away my TV's true resolution was the software that came with the NVIDIA Control Panel I was using while setting up a dual monitor setup. It showed up as 1680x1050 (Native) and I was like, no, that can't be. But sure enough it was. So I realize now that my TV is 720p with 1650x1050 resolution. I thought 720p was only 1280x720 and I was wrong. Ok.

I now have to question what 720p means as I apparently have no idea. While I'm at it, I figure I'll ask what a few other well known resolutions are in hopes of some good answers.

Here is what I would like to know.
-Why do the TV brands advertise their products strictly as 720p, 1080i or 1080p rather than the true resolutions?
-What does 360p really mean?
-What does 480p really mean?
-What does 720p really mean?
-What does 1080i really mean?
-What does 1080p really mean?
-What are all the possible variable resolutions for 360p, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p that I can expect to encounter when buying a tv that is labeled so simply?
-Do they label their products as 720p/1080p to show what it can display, but is not the maximum? For example would a 1899x1199 resolution TV be labeled 720p purely because it can fully display 720p but can't yet do 1080p?
answer R T  Answered at 2011.03.28 21:09:51
I've never seen 360.

However they refer to the number of scan lines in the picture counting from top to bottom. More scan lines mean smaller pixels so more detail can be shown.

I = interlaced scanning (first the odd number lines are displayed, then the evens).
P= progressive scanning (all the lines are displayed in order from top to bottom).

P will look better than I because there is not a time gap between when the even field is displayed and the odd field. Also, with interlaced scanning, you are only seeing half the picture at a given moment.

What you have to look at is the "native resolution" of the panel. That is the number of rows of pixels that are built into the screen. This is set when the panel is manufactured and can not be changed. The electronics in the TV will scale (convert) whatever signal you give it into the panel's native resolution. So, just because a TV will accept a 1080 signal, that doesn't mean what you actually see is 1080, you see the native resolution of the panel. You need to look in the owner's manual or Google the specs to find out what that is.

The same is true for the computer resolutions you feed it; the electronics in the set scale the image so, just because you found a resolution on your NVidia card that the TV likes, that doesn't necessarily mean that's what the panel is showing you.
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