Why Resolution and Ratio Matter

Paul Schetelich

Lead Designer

Screen resolution wasn’t always an issue. Windows rolled out a few options that users could choose from. If they wanted better colors or higher resolutions, they could install a  driver for their video card.

As technology advanced, users had even more options in the sense of enhanced video cards and monitors. That brings us to today, where we have dozens of options when it comes to displays, resolution and quality picture.

What Does Resolution Really Mean?

Although the term “resolution” is sometimes used to describe the number of pixels on a screen, this is not accurate. Resolution actually refers to the number of pixels per unit of area.

In other words, resolution tells you how densely the pixels are arranged rather than the total number of them. However, though resolution has a technologically correct usage, it’s commonly understood as total number of pixels.

What About 720p? 1080i?

When describing resolution, you’ll see something like this: 640 x 480 = 307200 pixels. This basically tells you the number of pixels horizontally and vertically. You might also see screen resolution described like this: 720p or 1080i. What does this mean?

The letters in the formula tell you how the picture on the screen will appear. The “p” stands for progressive and the “i” stands for interlaced. These shorthand letters are used to describe both TVs and computers, through a computer monitor is generally capable of a higher definition displayed compared to a TV.

Here is a list of common shorthand numbers and what they mean.

  • 720p = 1280 x 720. This means that the device has an HD or HD Ready resolution.

  • 1080p = 1920 x 1080. This means FHD or Full HD resolution.

  • 1440p = 2560 x 1440. This is typically seen on gaming computers and high-end smartphones. It’s known as QHD or Quad HD resolution.

  • 2160p = 3840 x 2160. Commonly known as 4K, UHD or Ultra HD resolution. It’s typically seen on high-end monitors and TVs.

  • 4320p = 7680 x 4320. Known as 8K. Not seen on TVs and monitors quite yet, but it’s possible we will see this sooner than later. It has 16 times more pixels than the regular 1080p.

How About Aspect Ratio? How Does that Work?

Aspect ratios were generally used in conversations regarding motion pictures. Movies were originally displayed in 4:3 aspect ratio, which carried over to TV and computer monitors. Rather quickly, TV and monitor manufacturers moved to wider screens, which meant that aspect ratios were adjusted.

Up until 2010, 16:10 was the most popular aspect ratio for computer monitor displays, but today, this has changed to 16:9. You probably won’t find anything on the market with a 16:10 display these days.

Depending on your display’s aspect ratio, you can only use resolutions that are specific to its height and width. Below are some of the most common resolutions that can be used with each aspect ratio.

  • 4:3 aspect ratio resolutions. 640 ×480, 800×600, 960×720, 1024×768, 1280×960, 1400×1050, 1440×1080 , 1600×1200, 1856×1392, 1920×1440 and 2048×1536.

  • 16:10 aspect ratio resolutions. 1280×800, 1440×900, 1680×1050, 1920×1200 and 2560×1600.

  • 16:9 aspect ratio resolutions. 1024×576, 1152×648, 1280×720, 1366×768, 1600×900, 1920×1080, 2560×1440 and 3840×2160.

If you have a 4:3 television, the display can be adjusted with black bars at the top and bottom. However, this doesn’t make sense on a computer monitor. Your media player might allow you to watch videos with the black bars, but your computer will not. This is why Windows doesn’t even offer a widescreen display as an option.

Monitor Size vs Resolution: What’s More Important?

It’s not the screen size you need to pay attention to, but its ability to handle higher resolution pictures.

When you set the resolution high, the images will be smaller on the screen and appear more detailed. But, it’s possible that the text on the screen can become so small that it’s difficult to read. On the flip side, a large monitor can handle a much higher resolution, but the pixel density will affect how easy the font is to read.

It’s easy to get thrown off by the different technicalities out there, but hopefully we’ve helped you better understand what resolution and aspect ratio mean and how they relate to each other.

 
About the Author: Paul Schetelich

Since the days of sidewalk chalk and finger paints, Paul has been creatively crafting the art of design. With a B.A. in Graphic Design from Monmouth University and a Masters from the Califano School of Art - Paul quickly moved up the ranks at SEMGeeks from Junior Designer to the Lead Designer. With 4+ years of experience in web design Paul is ready to conquer the digital atmosphere.

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