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SD, HD, 4K, 8K, 16K... The resolution to resolutions!

We have all heard the terms ‘HD’ and ‘4K’, however, when being upsold at the home appliances store do we know what we are being upsold to?

Note: 'HD' is short for 'high definition' and 'SD' is short for 'standard definition'.

We learnt about aspect ratios in this article which was telling us the shape of a frame, but it wasn’t telling us yet how big (or how many ‘pixels’) the frame actually is. This is a trickier one to demonstrate because in art class you had canvases of different sizes and so the bigger canvas is going to have many more brush strokes in it to make up the image than a smaller canvas size. In this situation our canvas size is always going to be digital so it will physically only ever be the size of the device we are viewing it on. However, when it comes to the size of an image recorded in a camera we have different sized canvases they will record.

Now that we have the general preface, let’s break down our different ‘canvas sizes’ or ‘recording sizes’ available today. Each size has a shortened term that you will be more familiar with as well

720 x 480 pixels or ‘SD’

1920 x 1080 pixels or ‘HD’ (this came out in about 2009)

4096 x 2160 pixels or ‘4K’

7680 x 4320 pixels or ‘8K’

And yes it exists now since 2014 we have had 16k cameras:

15,360 x 8640 pixels or ‘16K’

As you can see how the resolution size has then given the shortened name of '4K', '8K' based on the width of the canvas. All of these we call ‘resolutions’ and that can be resolutions of a camera or of a TV.

So if the device you’re viewing the video on is the same size, what’s the advantage of ‘higher resolutions’? Well, only devices that are 4K or 8K (there are 16K TVs available now too) can playback 4K or 8K content as a start. However, if you do have a device that can display for example 8K footage then it will mean there’s more detail in each inch of the screen. This is more obvious in landscape shots rich with fine detail and trees for example.

The differences can be subtle and so it’s always recommended to compare and get a feel of the different resolution options when buying a TV and if you don’t notice a difference then your sense is more important than a sales pitch!

As for cameras what are the advantages for buying a higher resolution camera than not?

  • capturing more detail

  • Flexibility in editing

The first point we have covered in terms of being able to produce videos for showing on 4K or 8K

What are the disadvantages of buying a higher resolution camera?

  • Bigger file sizes

  • Needing a high powered computer to process a d edit the footage

Advanced learning: When people refer to resolutions sometimes they may use the height of that particular resolution to refer to it. For example, '1080p' is the most commonly used term. This refers to anything HD or 'high definition'. The other way commonly used to refer to a resolution is '720p'. This describes HD also, but what we consider a standard 'HD' size, whereas '1080p' refers to 'full HD' size.

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