ResolutionResolution is a specification often listed for TV's, phone displays, or any electronic screen. Generally, it's believed that bigger is better, and while this is usually true it helps to understand what resolution is so you can make an informed decision about what you need.
What is resolution?
Digital images are made up of thousands of tiny squares called pixels. Resolution is simply the number of pixels in the screen area (or the dimensions vertical-by-horizontal). The higher the resolution, the smaller the pixels, the more detail you can see in the image, and the more the image looks like the real thing. Some of the screens we use today, like the one on the iPhone 4, have pixels so small the human eye can't even distinguish them.
How is resolution measured?
It's usually given as the count of a single vertical line of pixels (ie. 1,080).
Televisions: Usually we're given the vertical dimension of the screen but occasionally, we hear talk about the aspect ratio, which is the ratio between the vertical and horizontal pixel counts. A common widescreen aspect ratio is 16:9 which translates to the screen being 1.78 times wider than it is tall.
Truth: High Definition (HD) TVs can be either 720p or 1080p with 1080 clearly showing more detail.
More Important: A higher frame rate (measured in hz, or cycles/sec) can create smoother motion and LED back-lighting provides better contrast. These features can often be just as important as resolution.
Related: How to Buy an HDTV
Cameras: Cameras are also measured by resolution, but for the number of pixels they're able to capture, not display. A 14 megapixel (MP) camera captures 14 million pixels, usually with an aspect ratio of 2:3 vertical:horizontal.
Truth: The more megapixels the more detailed an image.
More Important: MP's really only come into play when you're making large prints or blowing up an image on a big screen. The quality of the lens and the size and quality of the image sensor in the camera can be more important image quality factors than the number of MP's. Also, be aware that megapixels are completely different than megabytes which represent the quantity of data required to store the image information.
Related: How to Buy a Digital Camera
Printers: The resolution of images that come off a printer are given in dots per inch (dpi).
Truth: Higher dpi will create a more detailed image.
More Important: Dot shape and size also play into the mix. If you're happy with the image you're getting from your current printer, there's no need to look for more dpi's. Instead look for other features like wireless connectivity and the number of pages it can print per minute.
Still feeling a little lost? Our handy buying guides for televisions and digital cameras will help you find what you need, and our electronics section is chock full of helpful articles. And don't hesitate to ask me any questions in the comments!
-By Erik Eibert
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Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.