- What exactly is 4K?
- What is 4K resolution?
- What does 4K mean?
- How many megapixels is 4K?
- Is Ultra HD and 4K the same?
- What is 1080p?
- What does 1080p mean?
- What is 1080i?
- 1080p vs 1080i?
- Can you tell a difference between 1080p and 4K?
- Is 4K worth it over 1080p?
- Is 4K worth it for YouTube?
- Why does 1080p look better than 4K?
4k vs 1080p: A Complete Guide
As technology improves, so does the quality and resolution we’re able to achieve with our devices. 4K is quickly becoming the new standard for digital resolution and appears frequently across today’s tech-centric world.
TVs, laptops, monitors, cameras, projectors, videos, and digital pictures all need a common method to explain and differentiate quality. The most standard unit of measurement when comparing the size and detail of a digital image or screen, is the resolution.
Labeling a digital asset or technology device as 4K resolution, 4K content, or having a 4K aspect ratio indicates very specific information.
In its simplest form, 4K refers to a digital resolution that is approximately 4,000 pixels in width. Like referring to large sums of money, the “K” is just an abbreviation for the number 1,000.
While there are some variances in the exact resolution (see Ultra HD vs. 4K below), you can safely call it 4K if an image or display is between 3840 and 4096 pixels wide.
Truly understanding 4K resolution starts with grasping the concept of resolution itself.
Resolution is a term used across a wide array of mathematics and scientific disciplines. In our case, we are talking about display resolution, which is the number of distinct pixels in each dimension that can be displayed.
Similarly to measuring physical objects with a ruler to learn the width and height, digital displays and assets are measured in pixels.
Think of a pixel (px) as a tiny dot on the screen that, when put together with millions of other dots, resembles the original image. Pixels are considered to be the smallest component of a digital image and are themselves composed of a mixture of the primary colors red, green, and blue.
Fun Fact! The word pixel was derived from the words “pictures” and “elements” and was officially first used in 1965 to describe images from space probes on the Moon and Mars.
As discussed before, 4K is an abbreviation of four-thousand, in reference to the number of pixels that comprise the width of a given video or display.
4K is quickly becoming the new standard for a variety of technology including video resolution and TV display capabilities. While HD (1080p) dominated the world as the literal standard for high definition media, 4K is the way of the future. All major technology brands such as Sony, Apple, Samsung, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have invested in 4K resolution support for their devices and software.
4K devices are more accessible than ever for consumers, as well. As leading companies continue to innovate and push boundaries into 8K resolutions and beyond, 4K technology has become commonplace and is dramatically cheaper to produce than in the past.
A standard 4K resolution of 3840x2160 consists of 8.3 megapixels, with one megapixel being equivalent to one million pixels. A 4K resolution of 4096x2160 is slightly larger, making it about 8.8 megapixels. For reference, a full HD resolution of 1920x1080 contains only 2.1 megapixels.
Generally speaking, an increase in pixel density equates to sharper edges, truer color, and better overall quality.
If you are in the market for a shiny new flat-screen TV or have bought one in recent years, you probably have come across the different resolution labels, specs, and claims by manufacturers.
The most confusing, perhaps, is the difference between Ultra HD and 4K. So, what’s the difference?
Ultra HD, or UHD, refers specifically to the pixel resolution of 3840x2160. This is the actual resolution for most “4K” televisions and projectors and is roughly four times as large as full HD.
4K, strictly speaking, refers to the pixel resolution of 4096x2160 since it really is 4,000 pixels long. This resolution stems from cinema cameras, and is regarded as “real 4K.”
For the average consumer, the difference in quality between UHD and 4K is negligible, and thus manufacturers and retail stores alike have led the way for both resolutions to simply be called 4K interchangeably.
Technically speaking, at 3840x2160, UHD is a little shy of being four thousand pixels long, leading those who really care to denounce it as “fake 4K.”
In addition to TVs, consumers can also expect to see UHD and 4K when looking at 4K video cameras, 4K monitor resolution, or any type of digital 4K content.
1080p is often referred to as Full HD (FHD) and has a resolution of 1920x1080. 1080p has long been the standard for all things digital and coincided with a generation of emerging consumer technologies like smartphones, cameras, TVs, game consoles, projectors, and monitors.
1080p video was adopted in part due to the growing popularity of the HDMI cable, which provides a fast interface to send uncompressed video and audio streams from one device to another. HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface and started to become a standard port on consumer electronics in the early 2000s.
1080p has more in its name than just the 1920x1080 pixel resolution. The “p” stands for progressive scan, which is a format that displays every line of pixels sequentially for every single frame of a moving image.
Progressive scan, also known as noninterlaced scanning, is in contrast to interlaced footage (see below), which was the old standard for analog television systems. Progressive scan was universally adopted in the early 21st century for consumer monitors and most HDTVs.
1080i has the same resolution as 1080p at 1920x1080. The “i” stands for interlaced scan, which is a technique that uses alternating lines of pixels (fields) to display half of two neighboring frames of video.
Thanks to the human brain’s ability to accept seeing only half of a given image at once, this format allows the viewer to perceive the original motion of the footage while reducing the bandwidth needed for the video stream, which makes it the perfect choice for broadcasting.
Interlaced footage was developed to work on older cathode ray tube televisions that were limited on how many frames per second could be displayed. Today, most television broadcasts worldwide are still in 1080i, even though newer LED HDTVs are capable of displaying progressive scan without the same frame rate constraints. This is because transmitting interlaced footage across airwaves requires half the bandwidth, thus making it easier for consumers with slower data or internet connections to receive the broadcast.
Using lower resolutions is also easier when working on slower computers! If you’re editing your content on an older machine, you can find some tips on what video editing software is best for you here.
The difference between 1080p and 1080i is not in the number of actual pixels but is instead in the way those pixels are displayed.
1080i is interlaced, meaning it displays half of a given frame at each moment and requires less bandwidth to transmit and receive.
1080p is progressive, meaning each full frame is displayed in its entirety.
Modern devices such as televisions and computer monitors are built with newer technology, such as LEDs, that don’t have the same physical restrictions on how many pixels can be reliably displayed at once. Therefore, progressive scan is the undisputed choice for the highest quality, smoothest motion, and clarity for any device that is capable of receiving and displaying it.
Interlaced footage is still commonly used for broadcasting because it requires much less bandwidth. Many modern TVs come with a built-in “deinterlacing” functionality that receives an interlaced format and reconstructs the half-images into their full frame before displaying them on screen, effectively giving the viewer a progressively scanned viewing experience.
Essentially, If you care about having the best video quality for watching movies or gaming with the newest generation of consoles, it is worth it to splurge on hardware that supports 4K.
As 4K continues to become the standard, prices are already dropping drastically from when 4K was an emerging technology. But, if you are perfectly happy with your older tech, it might be worth it to wait for 4K to become even a little more established before upgrading at a huge discount.
If you are a content creator, should you upload videos in 4K to sites like YouTube? If your camera shoots 4K and you are editing in 4K, you might as well also upload in 4K.
While the percentage of today’s viewers that will actually receive a 4K stream is relatively small, there is virtually no downside to finishing your content in 4K, apart from bigger file sizes. Although a quality 4K video stream usually takes up too much bandwidth for slow and average internet speeds, online video platforms create smaller versions for these viewers.
This way, you are future-proofing your content for years to come, and the lucky viewers who have already invested in high-speed internet and the newest devices will appreciate being able to stream in 4K.
TIP: Want to improve your screen recordings? See our recommendations here.