How to Choose a TV: 720p, 1080p or 4K

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Finding the right HDTV is not easy. There are many brands and models to choose from, and you can buy TVs online and in retail stores that are feature-rich and reasonably priced. One of the key factors in choosing your TV is the picture resolution. When deciding which resolution is best for you, consider the viewing distance from the TV to where you sit while viewing and the size of the picture screen. These two factors affect how you perceive the resolution of your TV.

Picture Resolution and Image Quality

  • Resolution describes the clarity or sharpness of a TV picture and is measured in pixels. The more pixels a TV screen displays, the greater the detail. A 720p screen displays 1280 pixels across and 720 pixels vertically, for a total of about 921,000 pixels. In comparison, a 1080p screen has 1920 pixels across and 1080 vertically -- about 2.1 million pixels. This greater number in the same-sized screen means the 1080p screen has pixels that are smaller than those of the 720p screen, so its picture detail is clearer and sharper. In general, the more pixels the TV has, the higher the cost.

4K TV Ups and Downs

  • The latest increase in picture resolution technology is UHD, also commonly called 4K. A 4K TV has 3840 pixels across and 2160 vertically for about 8.3 million pixels. This is about four times the resolution of a 1080p TV screen, which increases the level of detail and sharpness significantly. Although most 4K TVs upscale traditional HD broadcasts to the higher resolution, to fully appreciate the remarkable level of detail on your 4K TV, you need channels or movies that transmit in UHD; they are still rare at the time of publication.

Viewing Distance and Optimum Screen Size

  • Before you shop, measure the distance from your couch to the TV location. For all resolutions, there is a distance that is too close — you’ll be able to see individual pixels — and a screen size that is optimum for the resolution and distance you choose. For example, if you plan to sit 7 feet, 4 inches from your new television, a 42-inch TV delivers the best perceived quality for a 720p resolution at that distance; a 55-inch TV delivers the best viewing experience for a 1080p resolution, and a 75-inch TV provides the best viewing experience for a 4K TV. Charts are available online that include other distances for similar comparisons.

Screen Size and Cost Considerations

  • Use your viewing distance as a factor when you shop. When viewing TVs in a retail store, sit or stand at the distance you plan to watch at home. If the viewing distance in your home requires a TV too large for your budget, buy the largest screen size possible within your budget or select a TV with a lower resolution -- a 1080p TV rather than a UHD TV, for example. In general, the bigger the screen and the higher the resolution, the greater the cost.

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  • Photo Credit Andersen Ross/Blend Images/Getty Images
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