What is Monitor Resolution?

K. Schurman

Monitor resolution is the measurement of the number of pixels that a computer display or monitor can show at one time. Monitors that display more pixels offer a sharper, brighter image. The term "pixels" is short for picture elements, and a pixel is the smallest element of an image.

Computer display monitors contain higher resolutions than television displays.
Computer display monitors contain higher resolutions than television displays.

The term resolution can be a little misleading, in part because today's computer displays sometimes serve as televisions, and vice versa. Because all types of displays make use of pixels, however, measuring resolution with pixel counts is common. The terms display resolution and pixel dimensions also have a similar meaning, and shoppers will sometimes see resolutions measured in the pixels per inch that a monitor can display, both horizontally and vertically.

The human eye cannot distinguish between individual pixels.
The human eye cannot distinguish between individual pixels.

The computer monitor combines all of the pixels to create the image, and, ultimately, the resolution measurement for the display. Each pixel is so small that the human eye cannot distinguish between individual ones. Instead, the eye naturally blends them together to create the image.

Monitors have a native resolution, which is the resolution at which their images look best. When displaying images at resolutions other than the native resolution, the image might not look as sharp because of the resizing that must occur. Liquid crystal displays are most affected by native resolution.

Several standard pixel measurements make up common monitor resolution amounts for computer displays. For example, QSXGA measures 2,560 pixels by 2,048 pixels, which usually is shortened to 2560x2048. The measurement means a QSXGA display measures 2,560 pixels horizontally by 2,048 pixels vertically, which is a 5-to-4 ratio. Numerous other standard measurements exist, including WUXGA, which is 1920x1200; UGA, which is 1600x1200; SXGA, which is 1280x1024; and XGA, which is 1024x768.

To determine the total number of pixels in a standard monitor resolution, individuals can multiply the two pixel measurements. Using QSXGA as an example again, a person can multiply 2,560 by 2,048 to yield a total number of pixels of 5,242,880, usually shortened to 5.24 million pixels, or 5.24 megapixels. An XGA resolution (1024 by 768) would yield 786,432 total pixels, or 0.79 megapixels. Consumers should keep in mind that a monitor measuring 15 inches (38.1 cm) with 3 megapixels of resolution would create a sharper image than a 20-inch (50.8-cm) computer monitor with 3 megapixels, because the smaller monitor would offer more pixels per inch than the larger monitor.

On average, computer monitors have higher resolutions than television displays. A high-definition TV resolution can vary from 1920x1080 to 1280x720, but the top resolutions for computer displays carry significantly more pixels. Both types have seen steady increases in the total number of pixels they can display during the past several years, and monitor resolution should continue to increase in the future.

Monitor resolution refers to the number of pixels that the monitor can display at one time.
Monitor resolution refers to the number of pixels that the monitor can display at one time.

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Discussion Comments


Some people complain that higher resolution monitors are harmful to their eyes. The truth is that monitor resolution probably has no effect on your vision. Watching high resolution monitors is not going to damage your eyes more than watching a low resolution monitor will.

The brightness setting and positioning of your computer monitor will have more of an effect on your eyes than the monitor resolution. There is research on the correlation between monitors and vision available online.


When I went to purchase a monitor for a computer or when I went to purchase a TV I would always ignore the sales person when he would start talking about how much better the resolution was on the more expensive item he was trying to sell me. I thought all the talk was just a sales pitch used to make people spend more money for something they didn't really need.

Then one day I was at the house of a friend and her husband had just bought one of the high resolution TVs. The picture looked way better than what I was used to watching at home. After that, I began to take notice of computer monitors to see whether I could recognize the difference in the images displayed from one monitor to another, and whether I could predict which monitor resolution was higher.

In most cases, I could tell immediately when I was watching a monitor with more pixels than my monitor and when I was watching one with considerably less pixels than mine.

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