1080p Vs 4K - The Battle of Display Resolutions
Many developers realize the value of 4K but it is still not common in common households

Aside from the size of the set, there weren't many options in the early days of television. Color vs. black and white became a factor later, and cathode-ray tubes, LCD technology (which is still widely used today), plasma displays, and rear-projection for larger TVs finally took their place. However, the size and quality of television displays were hardly considered at the time. The signal broadcast for television, both over-the-air and cable, and on home video formats such as VHS and Betamax, was in a 4:3 ratio, while "standard definition" (SD) was the signal broadcast for both television, both over-the-air and cable, and on home video formats such as VHS and Betamax. The SD elements vary slightly between the NTSC and PAL standards used outside of Europe and within Europe, but they were substantially the same.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the first resolution revolution occurred. The arrival of HD ("high-definition") televisions and the DVD disc-based data and video format transformed home viewing to a more akin to a home theater experience. LCD and LED technologies (such as the best OLED and best QLED TVs) allowed for flat screens, resulting in larger, cheaper, and lighter television sets (if all these acronyms look like gobbledygook to you, check out our QLED vs. OLED primer). As a result of the transition to HD television signals and DVD, the aspect ratio of televised broadcasts changed, with everyone adopting the "cinematic" aspect ratio of 16:9.

While downloadable and streamable Internet video codecs have been since the 1990s, streaming as a method of distributing television and movies did not become popular until approximately 2011, four years after Netflix launched the "Watch Now" streaming option. Netflix divorced its streaming service from its DVD-by-mail service that year, ushering in the era of streaming media content. Almost every major media firm has launched its own streaming service since then. 

While television resolution was determined by display, video, and transmission technology, streaming was determined by internet bandwidth—basically, the amount of data that could be transferred over internet connections. On streaming, resolution leaps were delayed not because the signal could not be produced, but because it took time to build the technology that allowed the data to be sent quickly enough to be delivered properly. Those obstacles have been broken, and today, assuming a good Internet connection, streams may match the quality of recorded or broadcast footage.

Through the first 12 years of the 2000s, HD resolutions were the norm, but in 2012, the first 4K (also known as ultra-high-definition (UHD)) televisions were revealed. 4K, on the other hand, was more of an evolution than a revolution, compared to SD to HD. 

The resolution effectively tripled from SD to 3,840 horizontal lines (almost 4,000, hence the name 4K). Aspect ratios remained unaltered. 8K, which was accessible in televisions and monitors but not yet adopted by broadcast, video, or gaming technology, quadrupled that in the late 2010s. And now we've arrived at the present time.

Although there isn't much content for 8K TVs currently, the Samsung QN900B is nevertheless quite attractive. Differences in technical specifications between 4K and 1080p

The 16:9 aspect ratio of 4K and 1080p resolutions is the same, and the televisions that support them might be similar in size—the difference is in the sheer amount of pixels. A pixel is a single point of digital data, a tiny circle of color or light that, when joined with millions of others, creates a full image. There were two competing HD resolutions when the HD changeover occurred in the late 1990s/early 2000s: lower-end 720p and higher-end 1080p. 

The image size in 720p was 1280 pixels wide and 720 pixels height. The name is derived from the number of horizontal resolution lines. And while 720p is still accessible in low-cost televisions and monitors, its position in the market hasn't fully vanished, there are few manufacturers competing in that field because most consumers consider 1080p to be the "basic minimum" when it comes to a display. A 1920 pixel by 1080 pixel image is produced by a 1080p screen.

You would think the "p" in 720p/1080p refers for "pixel," but it actually stands for "progressive," as in progressive scanning, the mechanism by which the display refreshes the on-screen image. In comparison to interlaced scanning, progressive scanning exists, and for a while, both 1080i and 1080p screens were available. 

Every line of pixels in every image sequence is displayed via progressive scanning. Interlaced alternates every other line on every other image sequence, resulting in a less sharp but comparable image due to the image sequences' pace (usually anywhere from 24 to 60 per second depending on the input/signal being exhibited). However, 1080p proved to be superior, and interlaced scanning is now uncommon in HD displays and TVs.

The leap to 4K resolution effectively quadruples the resolution of 1080p. With a total of over 8 million pixels and 3840 pixels across and 2160 pixels up and down, 4K crams four times as much information into the screen. Prices on 4K TVs in smaller sizes without higher-end connection ports such as HDMI 2.1 are readily accessible in the $300 range, while not quite the standard. While the most expensive 4K TVs cost upwards of $2,000 in the largest sizes, some of the greatest models in smaller sizes cost less than $1,000.

The PS5 and Xbox Series X/S video game consoles have made 4K resolution gaming a reality for non-PC gamers (albeit Nintendo's older Switch device still outputs an HD signal), and Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Paramount+, and YouTube all offer 4K streaming output. While ordinary Blu-ray discs do not support 4K resolution, "premium" 4K Blu-ray discs are available for people who like to possess their video in physical form. However, 4K is not yet the "basic minimum." Some cable television providers supply limited 4K material via a digital cable box, but over-the-air transmissions are unlikely to reach 4K anytime soon (as they were the last to adopt HD roughly 15 years ago).

Even if the Nintendo Switch only outputs 1080p HD, Nintendo's iconic, exclusive characters like Mario and Zelda look good. Yes, but do I really require 4K?

There are a few activities that do not necessitate the purchase of a 4K television. The majority of cable television only transmits an HD feed. Older video game consoles (PS3 and original PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One), the Nintendo Switch when connected to a TV at home, and DVD and Blu-ray players are all in HD, not 4K. You can get the "intended" visual quality by connecting any of those devices to a 1080p TV using a normal HDMI connection.

However, what's known as "4K upscaling" will improve the visual quality and clarity in each of these scenarios. When these devices are connected to a 4K TV, 4K upscaling is the process of creating certain lines of pixels to "full up" an HD image into 4K. This is handled by the TV's processing circuitry, which uses algorithms that differ from one manufacturer to the next. Certain companies have developed superior programs to accomplish successful upscaling, therefore not all upscaling is made equal. 

Upscaling creates groupings of pixels that bridge the difference, rather than merely copying an additional line, as each pixel in an HD image would lose clarity and sharpness and end up looking quite bloated if it were simply doubled to make it 4K. If your media activities are confined to older-generation video games, terrestrial or basic cable television, and HD DVD/Blu-ray playback, owning a 1080p television will cost you nothing, but having a 4K screen will give you a considerably better-upscaled image. Most 1080p TVs also lack more current technologies like HDR, which has a significant impact on the overall appearance of the image onscreen.

There's an universe of higher-resolution entertainment made for and best in 4K, with most streaming services supporting 4K streaming, newer game consoles offering 4K gaming, and high-end disc players offering UHD Blu-ray. If you have the latest Sony or Microsoft consoles, you're certainly missing out on a lot by not having a 4K monitor, as the disc-based versions of those machines play UHD Blu-ray. The improvement in streaming quality is also evident, as 4K is one of those once-you-have-it-you-never-want-to-go-back experiences, since HD will just no longer suffice. For this generation, 4K is the finest resolution for gaming, streaming, and watching movies.

With the low entry price for a basic-but-solid 4K set and the vast majority of entertainment options pushing towards 4K as a standard, buying a new 1080p television makes little sense unless it's an emergency stopgap set that you want to buy for less than $200 or it's used for business purposes, such as a menu/advertising/information display in a shop. 

If you're looking for a home television, 4K is the way to go. If you're currently using a perfectly acceptable 1080p set with a small number of 4K-capable devices and services, there's no compelling reason to upgrade other than your own desire for better quality. In the near future, no TV show will be available to stream only in 4K, and no game will be unable to output 1080p, even if those settings aren't optimum. You won't be missing out on anything; you'll just be getting a lower-quality version of it.

While 1080p is currently considered "adequate," this will not be the case for much longer. Just like HD completely superseded SD, 4K will do the same at some time. Then there's 8K, which has four times the resolution of 4K and is now only available in high-end monitors and television sets. While some things on PCs can be exported at resolutions higher than 4K, no game systems, movie players, streaming services, or television services have created 8K versions of their content. 

Because there isn't much native 8K material available right now, 8K is effectively simply upscaled 4K. 1080p, on the other hand, sees the writing on the wall. When 4K ceases to be fashionable, 1080p will cease to be fashionable. Your habits and desires will tell you when it's time to commit to 4K, even if it's the furthest point in the future.

1080p Vs 4K - The Battle of Display Resolutions
JD Berkowitz 26 March, 2022
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