High-definition televisions list their resolutions in the form of a technical jargon, with the most common numbers thrown around being 1080i, 1080p and 720p. Each of these terms describes the number of horizontal rows of resolution on the screen; a 1080 screen has 1080 virtual lines of resolution, while a 720 screen has 720 lines of resolution. Further confusing the issue is that there are both LCD and plasma screen technologies, although LCD screens have largely taken over the marketplace.
Progressive Scan Screens
At the dawn of the HDTV age -- around 2001 -- plasma screens held the advantage in refresh speed and in image display. A plasma screen uses an ionized gas to make its pixels, and because of this, the pixels are very responsive. The plasma screen display usually has full progressive display -- this is what the 'p' at the end of the resolution number is; it means that when the screen is refreshed, it is redrawn, one line at a time, 60 or more times per second. A display that says '1080i' is 1080 lines of resolution, but refreshes half the lines at each cycle. A 1080i display refreshes 540 lines per 60th of a second, compared to a 720p, which refreshes 720 lines each time the screen is redrawn.
720p Plasma TVs
Plasma TVs are likelier to use 720p display, especially on the lower-priced models. A smaller plasma screen television was more likely to have a 720p display, though they've become increasingly rare as the competition has grown from LCD screens, which are generally all 1080p in 2011. If 1080p content is shown on a 720p display, the content will be shrunk to the resolution the display supports. This shrinking uses a process called "bicubic compression," which shrinks an image smoothly by eliminating pixels if the ones surrounding them are close enough in color and hue. The method is the same used to show 'zoomed out' pictures on your computer monitor.
1020p Plasma TVs
Nearly every newly made plasma TV on the market as of March, 2011, has a 1080p screen, particularly in the larger sizes from 42 inches up. The 1080p plasma TVs are superior for watching Blu-Ray DVDs, and a number of broadcasters now send all their content in 1080p resolution. Another advantage of a 1080p display is that it works fairly well as a large-format computer monitor.
Other Plasma Advantages
A plasma screen manipulates an electrically charged gas to form an image on the screen, and this allows each pixel to be lit individually (giving better contrast, as when a pixel is black there's no light coming from it). Plasma screens also have wider viewing angles than LCD screen TVs, though this advantage isn't as pronounced with recent advances in LCD TV designs.
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