1080p versus 720p (again)

Okay, folks, even I get caught up in the 1080p hype these days. But, as always, don’t believe the hype. Here’s what I’ve learned in the seven months since I’ve owned my truly excellent 720p Panasonic.

There’s no doubt that 1080p is “better”. It’s simple math. It has more pixels, so you can cram more graphics in, smooth graphics out more, and such. That’s the bottom line. 1080p is — technically — better.

But that’s where the clarity of the subject ends. First, consider that most 1080p TVs are a good $1000-$2000 more expensive than a 720p set (excluding Westinghouse, a brand I simply do not trust). Now we get into the nitty-gritty. No television station broadcasts in 1080p. That means that when you’re watching your hi-definition TV broadcasts, your 1080p TV will simply “upscale” or “upconvert” a 720p image to 1080p — meaning it will stretch it to fit the screen. The broadcast will still be in 720p. So scratch 1080p if you’re just going to be watching standard HDTV broadcasts on cable.

When does 1080p come into play? Video games and Blu-Ray movies. I own a PS3, and some of the PS3 titles are beginning to come out in 1080p. I can only run them in 720p. And my PS3 is a Blu-Ray DVD player as well, which broadcasts in 1080p — so I’m losing out, right?

No. Anyone knowledgeable in the field will be quick to point out to you that 1080p is really only for television sets over 50″. If you have a 40″ set, and you’re in true 1080p (not upconverted 720p), and you sit, say, around six feet away from the television, you are not going to notice a difference. Sure, if you look hard enough, you might be able to spot it. But it simply isn’t noticeable enough to be worth an extra grand or two.

So what do you do if you’re in my situation? You have a next-gen console gaming system (an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3), you have a Blu-Ray DVD player (which will only play in 720p, obviously, on a 720p set) or you have Blu-Ray built into your Playstation 3, your TV is less than 50″, and you’re not made of money. What should you do?

You should buy a 720p plasma set. Plasma is still the best picture quality in HDTVs, bar none, and the few 1080p plasmas that are out are insanely expensive. You will not notice a difference, I promise you. If you want to test my theory out, go to your local electronics store. Do not let them show you a regular TV broadcast on a 720p set and a 1080p set. There’s no difference. You have to ask them to hook up a Blu-Ray player or a next-gen system playing a 1080p title on both screens. Then stand about six feet away and see if you can really notice a difference.

If you can, and if you just happen to have two grand floating around that you “just don’t know what to do with”, and you absolutely have to have the best gadget on the market, go ahead and buy the 1080p set. If you’re a middle-class consumer who’s jumping into the market because these sets are finally affordable, buy your 720p and never look back. There’s nothing to worry about. You won’t notice the difference. If you have a Blu-Ray player, it will downscale the HD movies to 720p — which is still better than the “Standard TV” 480p.

When the 1080p sets drop, and you’re buying one over 50″, go ahead and get that 1080p set. Of course, by that time, a new resolution will have taken over. Ask any PC gamer — 1080 pixels to them is nada, they’re looking for a monitor that can do 1200 pixels — 1080 is, to them, stone age engineering (so never hook your computer up to a 720p set).

Just rest easy if you have 720p and you’re under 50 inches. I know all the hype there is surrounding 1080p, but if you do a careful search on the Internet, you will find the technical experts telling you exactly what I am. In fact, when 1080p was first introduced at places like the Consumer Electronics Show, executives were quick to point out that it really was only worth it if you had a TV larger than 50″.

So sleep easy with your kickass 720p plasma set (I recommend plasma because there are no viewing angles, the colors are amazing, and it can reproduce true blacks with great ease — something that you will find makes a bigger difference than scaling up to 1080p).


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