Resolution and aspect ratios are two of the many components to consider when producing videos. Resolutions affect the video image quality; and aspect ratios connect with the device you use to broadcast your videos.
720p, 1080p, 4K, HD, Full HD, Ultra HD. Then there’s 16:9, 16:10. 1:1, 4:3. You probably have seen these numbers when you’re streaming, editing, or filming videos. But what exactly do they mean? How do they matter in video settings? And which setting should you choose for the best video output quality?
In this article, you will find the definitions of resolutions and aspect ratios. You will also explore different video resolutions and aspect ratios to apply to your next video streaming or video production project.
What Does Resolution Mean?
A pixel (or px, pel, picture element) is the smallest component that makes up a whole image or a display screen. Or in layman’s terms, pixels are the little squares placed together to create an image. A pixel is often rendered as a tiny square with color. Pixel sizes vary among different display devices.
Resolution, in the context of digital imaging, is the number of pixels that an image or a display screen is composed of. Resolution reflects the number of details that an image holds. The higher the resolution is, the more the pixels count is, which means the better the image quality will be.
So what do the terms 1080p, 4K, HD mean?
Resolution is calculated by multiplying the number of pixels in width and the number of pixels in height. When we say the resolution is 1080p, it means the maximum number of pixels that a display screen supports is 1080px in height. If you’re choosing a 4K TV, it means the TV screen can display a maximum of nearly 4,000 pixels wide (3,840 pixels in exact count).
The full format of resolution is quoted as width x height, with the units in pixels.
Resolution = Width (px) x Height (px)
Usually, we abbreviate this format by saying the number of horizontal pixels. For example, you may say 1080p instead of 1920 x 1080; or 720p is the short form for 1280 x 720.
Different Types of Resolutions
Resolutions vary across media devices. Below are the most common resolutions that you see in video streaming and production.
480p, 640 x 480, or standard definition
The 640 x 480 resolution also goes by the names 480p and standard definition (SD). This resolution displays a total of 307,200 pixels. Although it is called ‘standard’, with the technology advancements, the 480p is often considered a low resolution and is suitable for laptop monitors and small TV screens.
720p, 1280 x 720, or HD
The 720p, high definition or HD resolution gives you 921,600 pixels at a 16:9 aspect ratio in total. This resolution is preferred by television channels and is considered the ‘minimum’ high-definition standard.
1080p, 1920 x 1080, or Full HD
This is the ideal resolution for many streamers and broadcasters. It displays 2,073,000 pixels — that is more than 2 megapixels at 16:9. The 1080p resolution is considered the ‘current standard’ of broadcast video quality. Most videos on YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video are encoded at this resolution. The same goes for Blu-ray discs. And many camcorders or video cameras max out their recording quality at 1080p.
1440p, 2560 x 1440, or 2K
The 2K resolution displays 2560 pixels horizontally and 1440 pixels vertically. It’s also referred as QHD, or Quad HD because it is four times more pixels than the 720p or HD resolution. This resolution setting is commonly used for cinematic projection.
2160p, 3840 x 2160, UHD, or 4K
The 2160p resolution consists of a whopping 8,294,000-pixel display at a 16:9 aspect ratio. This is four times as big as Full HD, thus the name ‘4K’. This resolution is also known as UHD, or Ultra High Definition. 4K videos give out rich streaming and video viewing experience with minimized pixelation.
Is the Higher the Resolution, the Better?
The short answer is, not really. In video streaming, the amount of available bandwidth plays a big part in how smooth your stream will turn out. If you stream a 4K video with a 5 Mbps of internet bandwidth, your stream will be laggy. To find your ‘golden mean’ resolution, the best way is to balance out factors such as finding an appropriate video bitrate, frame rate, internet upload speed, the location of your audience, etc.
What is Aspect Ratio?
Aspect ratios refer to the shape of your display device or a viewing area on your display device (e.g., YouTube video frame). It is calculated based on the ratio of the width to the height of your screen.
Aspect ratio = width (image unit) / height (image unit)
Common Aspect Ratios
The 1:1, or square ratio, is most common in major social platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
The 4:3 ratio is more prominent in early television screens. 4:3 means for every three measurement units in width, there will be four measurement units in height.
The 16:9 ratio is the most common format for today’s videos. Modern home TVs and most theaters use this format. One benefit of this ratio is that it can accommodate other ratios (e.g., 1:1, 4:3, 2.35:1) with the least amount of blank surrounding spaces (also known as ‘masking’)
9:16 is the vertical version of the 16:9 display and has been a trend in recent years. This ratio was popularized by Snapchat for the first time, and later on applied by Twitter, Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, and Tik Tok.
You may mostly find the 16:10 (or 8:5) aspect ratio in computer displays and tablets. This ratio is the closest to the golden ratio, which is approximately 1.618. 16:10 is common in the mass market in 2013. However, since 1080p and 16:9 became the mainstream standard, the market share of the 16:10 ratio has dropped.
2.35:1 and 2.39:1
This ratio type derives from standard 3mm film and film projects. It’s also known as anamorphic or cinemascope.
The Connection Between Resolutions and Aspect Ratios
Resolutions and aspect ratios are related to one another. The resolution generally determines the aspect ratio of the screen needed. For example, a HD resolution (1920 x 1080) video is ideal on a 16:9 aspect ratio. This is also the most preferred setting for today’s HD broadcasts.
On the other hand, the aspect ratio tells you what the shape of your video viewing area looks like, and how wide or tall it will appear.
So, resolution can influence aspect ratio, but not the other way around.
- Resolution is the number of pixels that make up an image. The higher the resolution is, the more the pixels count is, which means the better the image quality will be.
- The format of resolution is: Width (px) x Height (px)
- Aspect ratio refers to the shape of your display device, or a viewing area on your display device.
- An aspect ratio is the ratio of the width to the height of your screen. Aspect ratio = width (image unit) / height (image unit)
- Aspect ratios describe your video viewing area, while resolutions refer to the maximum number of pixels that can fit in that space.
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