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Useful Notes / High Definition

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The same image at standard definition and high definition.

High Definition is basically increasing the resolution of digital TV broadcasts to show more detail compared to the 625 lines of PAL or 525 of NTSC. Older Than They Think: Analog broadcasts in HD go back to the 1950snote , but did not take off in most of the world until the 2000s. note  Furthermore, computer users with VGA monitors have effectively had HD since the late 1990s. The transition to high definition also brought an Aspect Ratio change to television, making 16:9 the new default.


These three resolutions are generally regarded as HD:

  • 720p (1280x720, progressive-scan)
  • 1080i (1920x1080, interlaced)
  • 1080p (1920x1080, progressive-scan)

Usually broadcasters tend to choose between 720p and 1080i depending on their type of programming; for instance ABC, Fox and ESPN go with 720p to reduce image blur during fast motion in sporting events and films, and to address bandwidth concerns. 1080i broadcasters such as NBC, CBS, the Discovery, A&E/Lifetime networks and HGTV/Food Network go for image clarity. However in many cases the average consumer has no need to understand either format, as they all provide a great picture. 720p sets are cheaper than 1080i televisions, though as prices go down, 720p sets are becoming fewer and fewer. 1080p is mainly a media resolution utilized by camcorders, video games, streaming services like Netflix and Blu-ray as it is not currently possible to broadcast a 1080p signal over the air.


Despite the list below, basically everything new since 2009 on major networks and cable has been produced in high definition, and when Fox de facto ended their Saturday morning infomercial block for new edutainment in most markets, it meant that outside of one (usually ignored) exception, all the major American and Canadian broadcast networks are now solely run in HD. The few shows that were behind the times, such as America's Next Top Model and Big Brother, had varying reasons, such as probable unease by Tyra Banks over the format, and in the case of Big Brother the high cost of refitting a show with multiple voyeuristic cameras with the HD variety, or have a budget so low they have to use old SD technology by default. ANTM finally at least pulled the trigger in March 2012, but most of their setup remained "enhanced definition widescreen" for a long time, which is marketing code for "not really HD". Big Brother pulled the HD trigger in 2014, but not because of laziness; the complicated retrofitting of the entire show to run HD took three years to complete, and the producers wanted it all-HD or none at all. Let's Make a Deal was be the final network program to make the switch with the 2014 season start.

The turning point for most programs in syndication becoming HD was the 2011-12 season (one show, Swift Justice with Jackie Glass, downgraded to SD because of the loss of Nancy Grace and a new studio in that season, and was swiftly canceled). The trifecta of NBCUniversal's trash talk shows (Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos and Maury) and others of its ilk, along with most of the low-tier court shows, stood out for a long time as being stuck in SD, mainly because the sketchy lawyer ads airing on those shows don't really pay the HD upgrade bill well. Again in 2012-13 however, all of those programs upgraded to 480p widescreen, good enough to fill the screen at the very least, and all of them eventually switched to HD cameras when the budget allowed them to do so. As of the fall of 2017, The Robert Irvine Show on The CW finally scrounged up the change between their couch cushions and bought HD cameras, finally ending the standard definition age on American broadcast television (though the network and affiliates rarely promote that show at all as it's mainly a contractual thanks to its largest station group, Tribune). The last true SD "full frame" show in all of syndication, the morning business review First Business, ended in December 2014, but more because of local morning newscasts stealing their timeslots than any technological issues.

The ultimate resolution, which is drooled over by home theater buffs as it's the exact size of a 'frame' of a digital theatrical film, has a width of 4096 pixels and a varying height between 2200-3100 pixels depending on film aspect ratio standard; this is known as "4K". Note that "4K" is named after the approximate width in pixels, while 720 and 1080 are named after the height, hence, 4K is roughly twice as big in each dimension as 1080, not four times. Amazon Studios has actually required several of their movies and big name shows to record in 4K, including The Man in the High Castle, Transparent, and The Grand Tour. There are other formats spun off that such as HDR, which stands for 'high dynamic range' and stands for a technology that brightens the picture in a way that reproduces how an image would be in real life.

An increasing number of television programmes are now filmed in the format, though the majority of films are still filmed using celluloid. Movies that were shot on film have also been "high-deffed" from the original prints which technically are already HD (and nearly every film now is transferred to a digital format after editing via computer at a resolution slightly above or roughly twice that of 1080p). With the increasing availability of HD camcorders and the popularity of Blu-ray, HD will become the norm. Consumer items such as the iPhone and Flip cams, and even $100 point-and-shoots with HD capability, have accelerated this transition even further.

Some classic sitcoms and dramas which are on film can also be remastered into HD if the original negatives are available; this is seen on many shows which air on Universal HD, along with programs such as the original Star Trek, which saw an acclaimed re-release in the format in both syndication and on Blu-ray.

The net result of this has been to show more detail and clarity on pretty much everything, from football replays to craggy faces, and also given both makeup artists and local news anchors who could get by with just a smidge of makeup much bigger challenges to deal with.

It's also resulted in a lot of people buying new televisions, especially in the United States after the FCC had forced the digital conversion (originally planned February 12th, 2009 but delayed by President Obama to June 12th).

It should be noted that Japan pioneered the adoption of High-Definition TV. The system used in Japan, "Hi-Vision" (technical name MUSE), began development in 1979 and was adopted as early as 1988 by NHK. The system uses an Analog compression algorithm with some clever tricks like motion compensation to reduce blurring and keep frame rates consistent, and it was anything but bandwidth-friendly- the signal can only be delivered via satellite as the system consumed a whopping 20MHz per channel (comparatively, a typical UHF channel consumes 7-8MHz). Nonetheless the system was a success in Japan and by the early 90s, many Japanese households had BSnote -friendly TVs that received MUSE high-definition signals direct from satellite. Additionally, DVHS recorders (marketed as W-VHS to indicate that they're capable of recording MUSE signal) that could record (via a BS source) and play back MUSE signal and MUSE-capable LaserDisc players were also developed for the market. Embarrassingly, the US investigated the standard but ultimately decided not to adopt and deploynote , while the Europeans attempted to create their own system, called HD-MAC, and failed, partially on the same reason as the US and partially because they refused to modify the 60Hz system to work at 50Hz, preferring to build a new system that worked at 50Hz from ground up. Ironically, a constant stream of improvements to the system later made it possible to transmit MUSE signal over a 6MHz bandwidth by the late 90s, which as noted earlier is something American engineers claimed to be impossible to pull off without severe frame rate and picture quality issues (again, the Japanese employed heavy use of motion compensation and employed analog encoding tricks which the US engineers had failed to consider, like for example encapsulating the entire image stream as an FM signal). It should also be noted that the standard was later expanded to carry Dolby Digital Surround audio- years before the rest of the world had even heard of the term high definition. Japan eventually abandoned MUSE for the digital ISDB broadcast system, which had been developed with HD support in mind from the start.

Some more pedantic people argue that it was the French that pioneered HDTV with their "System E" transmission standard, which broadcasted a cool 819i over a 14MHz bandwidth on VHF from the 50s through the 80s in France and Monaco. This spawned a modified "System F" that uses half the bandwidth which was deployed in Luxembourg. However, the systems were black and white only (notice how they're not prefixed with the word "SECAM" in many technical documentations), and in the case of System F, had noticeably bad vertical resolution due to the available bandwidth being cut in half. The systems were dropped when these countries finally switched to color broadcasts completely.

Of The Sixth Generation of Console Video Games, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox both technically supported HD, but very few games used those modes, especially on the PS2, which only had two games that supported 1080i (Gran Turismo 4 and Tourist Trophy, which, it should be noted, ran on the same Game Engine). The HDTV Arcade Game Database highlights which games do support the 720p and 1080i modes. Homebrew for either platform will be more likely to leverage the higher resolution. Most games (but not all) among all four sixth-gen consoles support 480p, at the very least.

Of The Seventh Generation of Console Video Games (the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii), only the Wii doesn't have HD capabilities. This has the side effect of making it so that some PS3 and 360 games have near illegible text or HUD elements on non-HD TVs (since the game programmers expected them to be played on widescreen HD sets), a problem not present in the Wii due to the aforementioned lack of HD, though the Wii's 480p resolution is considered enhanced definition. The eighth-generation Wii U (and ninth generation Nintendo Switch), Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are all in HD, with the latter two extending to 4K. Later, the release of the Xbox One S allowed for 4K Blu-ray and streaming video playback for Microsoft's consoles.

For the sake of clarity, the following are what [something] definition is defined as.

  • Standard Definition (SD): Depending on the format, it's either 480 (Systems M and N) or 576 (System B through K', and System NC, except Systems E and F) horizontal lines interlacednote . The format can be widescreen or not. There is no width measurement as the width was considered to be limited by the allocated video bandwidth in the analog era, which can be anywhere between 6-8MHz. However, when computer graphics cards output to analog TV, the accepted format is to output 640x480 or 768x576 converted to interlaced (this may result in dot crawls and on NTSC systems, artifacting issues).
  • Enhanced Definition (ED): The same as standard definition, but is progressive scan. In the digital era, it's equivalent would be roughly 640x480 (VGA) and 768x576 for 4:3 ratio transmissions, and 854x480 (FWVGA) and 1024x576 (WSVGA) for Widescreen transmissions.
  • High Definition (HD): 1280x720 progressive scan. Sometimes also retroactively applied to analog Systems E and F (819i) and Japan's MUSE "Hi-Vision" format (1035i).
  • Full High Definition (FHD): 1920x1080 interlaced or progressive scan.note 
  • Quad High Definition (QHD) or 2K: 2560x1440, usually used on computers and many newer smartphones. Four times the resolution of 720p.
  • Ultra High Definition (UHD) or 4K: Defined as 3840x2160 on The Other Wiki, but varies among manufacturers. Four times the resolution of 1080p and nine times the resolution of 720p.
  • Full Ultra High Definition (FUHD) or 8K: Defined as 7680x4320. Four times the resolution of UHD. NHK is planing to broadcast some of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo in 8k.

The terminology in the market seems to have shifted from how many vertical lines there are (e.g., 720 or 1080) to the approximate horizontal resolution (e.g., 4K and 8K). Note that for digital cinema, 4K and 8K are actually over 4000 and 8000 pixels respectively.

The Other Wiki has a much more comprehensive list for your liking. Here are just a few examples.

TV shows shot or produced in High Definition

Films shot on High Definition Video


Example of: