1080p: Is It Worth It?

Earlier this week in his ZDNet blog, David Berlind mentioned a piece by CNET columnist David Carnoy, “720p vs. 1080p HDTV: The final word“. (Isn’t it something how so much of the Internet is about something else on the Internet? Escher would be pleased.) Now, I’m not going to pick apart either piece, as both writers make some good points. But I’m going to pick on the keystone of Carnoy’s — and Berlind’s — argument about that picks 720p as the winner:

“Bottom line: It’s almost always very difficult to see any difference–especially from farther than 8 feet away on a 50-inch TV.”

Ready for a surprise? I completely agree with this statement. And they’re conclusion is still wrong.

Is a laser printer better for printing text than an old 9-pin dot matrix printer? Absolutely. Does a photo in a glossy magazine look better than one in a newspaper? Certainly. If you view these from across the room, however, can you tell the difference? Of course not. There are limits to the ability of the human vision system to “resolve” or distinguish small items. It’s largely a function of the portion of the field of vision that the object fills. Below a certain point, you cannot distinquish one dot from another.

Now, if either of these two gentlemen had read my book, they’d know that at 8 feet for a 50″ display, you are too far to be able to resolve the smaller dots of a 1080p image. The optimal size 1080p screen for a viewing distance of six feet is 50″. For a 720p screen, it’s only 44″. So it makes sense that at a distance of 8 feet, you can’t see the difference.

There are some significant reasons that 1080p is better than 720p, and provided it does not cost a lot more, it’s the smart choice. Most HDTV broadcast content is in 1080i, which means that it does not have to be scaled down to fit the screen. Scaling down means you throw away information, which seems a waste to me. And over the five to 10 years that you’re likely to own the set, 1080p sources such as high definition DVD players are going to become more commonplace, so 1080p helps future-proof your choice. The most important step, however, is to make sure that you buy a set big enough to take advantage of the extra resolution.

Now that you can get a 1080p 42″ LCD HDTV for less than $1,000 (see my weekly Intelligence Report if you want to find out where), 1080p doesn’t cost much more than 720p. So make sure you’re informed before you make your choice.

Avoid an expensive mistake and get the right size HDTV the first time with Professor Poor’s Guide to Buying HDTV, now available in paperback from Amazon or other fine booksellers.