March 30, 2011, 1:00 PM — Buying an HDTV can be a daunting task. Unlike a smartphone, which typically sells for a few hundred dollars, an HDTV is a major investment that could last you for several years. For that reason, many consumers spend a lot amount of time poring over reviews, measuring sets to ensure that they'll fit the available wall space, and trying to find the best television in their price range.But other, more-technical questions are also relevant.
Should you opt for a 720p set? Do you really need 3D? Is the picture quality that a set has at your local Best Buy a good indicator of its picture quality in your living room? For help in answering these questions, read on.
720p or 1080p?
You've probably heard people talking about 720p and 1080p quite a bit. But what do those terms mean?
The p at the end of 720p and 1080p stands for progressive. The numbers before the p indicate that the HDTV draws either 720 lines or 1080 lines of vertical resolution across its screen to create the picture. When progressive programming is sent to a television, the set displays the lines of resolution in sequential order. That helps deliver a nice, clean image. Vendors label televisions as 720p or 1080p to tell customers the maximum resolution that the particular set can output.
At times, you may see an i instead of a p after 720 or 1080. That i stands for interlaced. When you watch content in 1080i, the set draws the picture with 1080 lines of resolution. But the TV displays the odd-numbered lines before the even-numbered ones, resulting in some visual-quality quirks (especially when you're watching sports or fast-moving action sequences in movies) that make 1080p a more desirable resolution.
In cable and satellite broadcasts, programming is available in 720p or 1080i. DVDs are recorded at 480p resolution, and Blu-ray movies at 1080p resolution.
Will you be using your set exclusively to watch cable or satellite programming, or are you likely to watch movies, too? If movie watching is in your plans, do you intend to buy Blu-ray movies in the future or stick with DVDs? Figuring all of that out should help you decide whether to opt for a 1080p set or a 720p set.
But resolution isn't the only factor to consider in making that decision.
It's becoming increasingly difficult to find 720p sets on store shelves. The costs associated with producing 1080p televisions have dropped; and with Blu-ray adoption on the rise, vendors recognize that offering a maximum resolution of 720p might not satisfy most customers.