What is 1080p?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2019
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1080p is a category of high-definition television, referring to the resolution of the picture. The 1080 refers to a resolution of 1080 vertical in the picture, and is usually understood to mean a television with a 16:9 aspect ratio, thereby including a resolution of 1920 horizontal. This puts the overall pixel count of a 1080p television at 2,073,600. The p of the term indicates the screen is progressively scanned, rather than being interlaced.

High-definition television has actually been around for some time, with the earliest predecessors going as far back as the 1930s in England. Modern high-definition televisions in the United States really have their start in the 1980s, however, when early models built on even earlier Japanese models were first shown. These models were hailed as being extraordinary in their quality, but the FCC ultimately rejected them as a standard because the bandwidth required by them was far too great.


With the advent of digital television technologies, however, all that changed. Digital television allowed for much higher levels of compression, which in turn meant that high-definition pictures could be transmitted with a fraction of the bandwidth. The aspect ratio was a matter of some debate for some time, but ultimately the ratio of 16:9 was agreed upon, largely as a compromise between the 5:3 ratio desired by many and the most common cinema ratio. A spec was decided upon at the BBC’s research and development facility, which lay out two scan modes: the interlaced 1080i and the progressive scan 1080p. A 720p format was discussed at this time, but it was ultimately decided this was more of an improved standard television resolution than a true high-definition resolution.

The two major standards today, the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) and Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standards, both support video in 1080p resolution at frame-rates of 24, 25, and 30 frames per second, as well as their offsets (such as 29.97 frames per second). These are usually abbreviated in shorthand as 1080p24, 1080p25, and 1080p30. Higher frame rates, 1080p50 and 1080p60, are looked at as the next logical step in the progression of true high-definition video.

The 1080p format is widely accepted throughout various industries and media. A number of internet sites that stream video offer content that works with this format, usually as the highest-quality video for the fastest connections. Consumer televisions are more-and-more commonly offering the resolution as a native format, with it quickly becoming the format of choice. Some computer monitors, as well, offer a native 1080p mode, usually by trimming down their 1920x1200 resolution to the native 1920x1080. With the advent of newer, higher-capacity storage discs for movies, such as Blu-ray® and HD DVD, many movies are also being re-released or released for the first time in this resolution.


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