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What is the Difference Between 720p and 1080p HDTVs?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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High-definition television (HDTV) is available in both 720p and 1080p models. The difference between them boils down to resolution, with 1080p capable of displaying a higher native resolution than 720p sets. This doesn’t necessarily mean that in all instances a 1080p HDTV will display a better picture than a 720p set. We can thank multiple broadcast formats and the varying quality of electronic components used in HDTVs to complicate the issue just a bit.

First, the basics. Every HDTV has what’s referred to as a native resolution. This is the only resolution the television can display. Every broadcast it receives or digital format it displays (such as a DVD), must all display in the native format. To do this the HDTV converts any signal that differs from its native resolution to the native resolution. Lower resolutions are “upgraded” and higher resolutions are “downgraded.” This process is known as upconverting and downconverting.

In the switch from standard definition broadcasts to high-definition broadcasts, there are competing formats. Some networks broadcast in 720p (1280 x 720) and others in 1080i (1920 x 1080). A 720p HDTV will be able to display 720p broadcasts natively. Displaying a signal without conversion results in an excellent picture. Once the TV has to convert a signal, the conversion process itself can degrade picture quality. Therefore a 720p broadcast might look better on a 720p TV than on a 1080p, if the processor chip in the 1080p HDTV is not up to snuff.

Other networks broadcast in 1080i, which the 1080p HDTV can display natively. A 720p set will have to downconvert a 1080i signal before displaying it. Both HDTVs will also have to de-interlace the 1080i signal but this does not involve changing the resolution, only reordering frame display. An interlaced signal is designed to paint every other line on the display, then fill in the missing lines. Progressive scan TVs paint the screen sequentially, from top to bottom, reducing the flicker affect of interlaced signals.

So far it might sound like a wash. A 720p HDTV will display 720p broadcasts natively, and a 1080p will display 1080i broadcasts natively. The 1080p might be seen as having the advantage that it will also upconvert 720p signals to 1080p resolution, and if the internal processing chip is a good one, this should improve picture quality to lessen "stair stepping" and the "screen door affect" by packing more pixels into the image for an overall smoother quality. Meanwhile, the 720p set will have to downconvert 1080i broadcasts.

But the real advantage of the 1080p is in watching HD DVD and Blu-ray discs. These digital discs are formatted in 1080p and studio movies on this media played on the 1080p HDTV are astounding. A 720p set that will accept a Blu-Ray signal must downconvert these formats to lesser resolutions, robbing the viewer of the true Blu-ray / HD DVD experience. The 1080p is also a preferable set for gamers who intend to connect a PC, XBox™ or PlayStation™.

All else being equal, 720p HDTVs are less expensive than their higher resolution siblings. If you aren’t big on DVDs and don’t plan on buying a Blu-ray or HD DVD player, you might opt to save some money. For gamers or movie fanatics, consider the higher resolution set, but stick with a quality brand that will provide a solid upconverter for all of those 720p broadcasts you’ll be watching between movies. Also, be sure the 1080p HDTV provides 1080p inputs or ports. Accepting 1080p input (as from a Blu-Ray player) is a different function than upconverting broadcast signals, and some earlier models lacked the ability to accept 1080p signals.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon995616 — On May 14, 2016

There is a easy solution- iDealshare VideoGo to converting 1080p to 720p step by step guide is provided as follows. It also helps to convert 720p back to 1080p.

By anon955353 — On Jun 06, 2014

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Of all of the complicated explanations of 1080p vs 720p, this article is the simplest and easiest to understand. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

By anon338826 — On Jun 17, 2013

How do I down convert a 720p HD TV to a 1080p?

By anon159138 — On Mar 10, 2011

Is not all bout resolution. I also would recommend higher hz.

I also prefer plasma for the higher picture quality and better contrast.

By anon148774 — On Feb 02, 2011

I am currently looking to replace the broken 720pLCD screen on my TV but the only replacement to buy is a similar screen with 1080p resolution. Will it work if I use this 1080 screen on my tv built for a screen with 720 resolution. Thanks in advance for your help. --Max.

By anon129985 — On Nov 26, 2010

i have a 720 and i see no difference from my friends 1080 and we play xbox all the time.

By Enjoi Love — On Nov 14, 2010

Thank you for explaining this! I've been debating all weekend with my Big Sis about purchasing a 22" 720p vs. a 22" 1080p and after reading the difference, I'm buying the 720p. It's $100 cheaper!

By anon113432 — On Sep 24, 2010

Thanks a great deal for this article. Looking for a bedroom TV and can save about $100 on 720. I think I will do that.

By anon88538 — On Jun 05, 2010

i got a 32 inch samsung and its 720p i think its amazing. i'm sure 1080 would be better but am i really going to tell a difference on a 32" ? i doubt it. if i do i'm probably not going to care so much or be so enthused .

By jwilli19 — On Mar 29, 2010

Without a HD subscription, will a HD TV still have a better picture than a conventional TV?

By jwilli19 — On Mar 29, 2010

I understand (as you mentioned in the above article) that a 1080p is the "preferred" choice for gamers. I am wondering if a 720p will still work for gaming- is it just not as good of a resolution as a 1080p?

By anon66527 — On Feb 20, 2010

to poster #12-

you must be subscribed to HD programming to experience the true quality and clarity of HD.

poster #2-

RCA is a good bang for your buck. you'll get the closest to Sony quality without paying for the name.

By anon54998 — On Dec 03, 2009

help I have a techniques plasma 50 inch 1080p tv everything appears to be hooked up correctly but the clarity is not the same as they show in the stores.

I do not have hd (only a digital box from the cable company). I had the HD at one time but got tired of switching channels to the opposite end of the tv channels and the screen was much more condensed. Am I doing something wrong?

By anon53662 — On Nov 23, 2009

if you are an xbox gamer, the xbox 360 allows you to choose which resolution you want to use. you can choose from either 480p, 720p or 1080p. as for the blu ray, if indeed 720p is its native resolution, then the choice is clear.

By anon52737 — On Nov 16, 2009

You forgot to mention that PAL HD-DVD and Bluray are natively 720p while NTSC is 1080. Also not all 1080's are 1080i, there is also 1080p which is not interlaced which results in a smoother picture.

By anon50289 — On Oct 27, 2009

I have a 37 inch Samsung hdtv, and i love it. The picture looked crisp and clear but it also depend on the signal that's being broadcasted. Before, buying the Samsung i considered getting a Sony. However, after comparing the Sony's picture to the Samsung at a local store i was not impressed. I purchased many product from Sony in the past (disc man, dvd player, vcr, etc.) and always been disappointed. The quality wasn't good as everyone say they were. So i thought i'd give Samsung a try and so far it's been great.

By anon47945 — On Oct 08, 2009

very informative. i was going to get a a 720p resolution for my kids room but now that i realize 1080 is for gaming. i guess i'll be upgrading. Samsung tv's have a nice clear crisp image but the choice is yours.

By anon36419 — On Jul 12, 2009

what is the answer to #2?

By anon36224 — On Jul 10, 2009

I would like to know what brand of HDTV is better than the others. Anybody???

By anon36156 — On Jul 10, 2009

Wow, now that was something really really informative. Thank you wise geek for just being there. You guys are doing a real great job for keeping it simple and to the point.

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