What is 720p? A guide to the HD resolution found in budget and small TV screens

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  • 720p, also referred to as high definition or HD, has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels.
  • Displays with 720p screens are relatively uncommon today and mostly found in small budget TVs.
  • 720p looks noticeably better than standard definition TV, but is just an eighth of the resolution of 4K.

TVs and computer displays come in a variety of resolutions, and you may encounter some displays identified as 720p. This means the screen has 1280 x 720 pixels. While 720p displays are still available, especially among budget-priced and very small televisions, they are increasingly rare. 

What 720p means

720p is any display that has 720 lines of resolution, which you can think of as 720 rows of pixels. Because TV resolutions are traditionally identified by how many horizontal lines make up the display, the number of pixels going across the screen are usually implied. But 720p delivers 1280 x 720 pixels (which is 921,600 pixels in total). 720p is also sometimes referred to as high definition or HD; it's the lowest resolution that qualifies as HD.

All those numbers can make it hard to get a sense of what a 720p display looks like. On a small monitor, it can look sharp and is noticeably better than now-obsolete standard definition (SD) TVs. But you'll only find 720p on small screens because quality degrades very quickly if you enlarge the display. 

4K vs. 1080p vs. 720p 

720p displays are the lowest resolution commonly available today, and also the oldest display standard still in use. These days you can generally only find 720p in small, budget-priced TVs. 

1080p is much more common and a significant step up in visual quality. Also called Full HD, 1080p offers about twice the resolution of 720p. Likewise, 4K is the highest resolution display commonly available (though 8K televisions are gaining traction, and might become significantly more common in the next few years). 4K is defined as a display with 3840 x 2160 pixels. That means 4K displays have about three times the vertical resolution of 720p (2160 vs 720) and more than eight times the total number of pixels (8,294,400 vs 921,600).

Dave Johnson

Freelance Writer

Dave Johnson is a technology journalist who writes about consumer tech and how the industry is transforming the speculative world of science fiction into modern-day real life. Dave grew up in New Jersey before entering the Air Force to operate satellites, teach space operations, and do space launch planning. He then spent eight years as a content lead on the Windows team at Microsoft. As a photographer, Dave has photographed wolves in their natural environment; he's also a scuba instructor and co-host of several podcasts. Dave is the author of more than two dozen books and has contributed to many sites and publications including CNET, Forbes, PC World, How To Geek, and Insider.

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