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Quad HD vs 1080p vs 720p comparison: here's what's the difference

Posted: , by Victor H.

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You can see the maths behind this at the bottom of the article, or you can just take a look at the GIF also below that visually demonstrates how far away from a phone you need to be start noticing pixelization. Screen size and distance are in inches.

You can see the maths behind this at the bottom of the article, or you can just take a look at the GIF also below that visually demonstrates how far away from a phone you need to be start noticing pixelization. Screen size and distance are in inches." 


The new generation of Quad HD smartphones is coming. Quad HD is the common name for the new super-sharp smartphone resolution: after 720p phones’ arrival in 2011 and the jump to 1080p smartphones just last year, in 2014, we’re already bracing ourselves for the first wave of Quad HD smartphones. A few Quad HD smartphones are actually already on sale in China, but it seems that LG’s G3 will become the first truly massive smartphone with the new ultra-sharp resolution.

So what is Quad HD all about and what are the benefits it brings? As with any improvement in screen resolution, Quad HD will make smartphone screens clearer, “sharper”. The practical benefit of such a sharp display is that your eye will be able to make out the tiniest of detail in images and videos, as well as read the tiniest of fonts.

But some may ask: wasn’t that the whole point of ‘Retina’ displays way back in 2010? Hadn’t we already reached that retina-perfect picture on our devices? We’ll answer this question right away.

Screen resolution and display size: are we there yet?


Let’s first start with the iPhone 4, a smartphone that first claimed it comes with a ‘Retina’ display so sharp that the eye of a regular person no longer sees jagged pixels. The iPhone 4 was a device with a resolution of 640 x 960 pixels, but resolution alone does not tell us much about the sharpness of the display itself. After all, if you put the same resolution that looks clear on the iPhone on a 50-inch screen it would suddenly start looking not sharp at all. So instead of looking at resolution alone, it makes much more sense to look at a metric like pixel density, calculated using both screen size AND resolution.

The iPhone 4, for instance, featured pixel density of 326 pixels per inch (ppi, but some would also say dots per inch, or dpi).

Not long after, though, higher resolutions and pixel densities started to appear. Here are the pixel densities of some popular phones since then:

  • Quad HD vs 1080p vs 720p comparison: here's what's the difference
    Apple iPhone 4-5s: 326ppi
  • Samsung Galaxy S3 (4.8-inch, 720p): 306ppi
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 (5-inch, 1080p): 441ppi
  • Samsung Galaxy Note III (5.7-inch, 1080p): 386ppi

By looking at these different phones, we can again see how screens with the same resolution have different pixel densities, and thus different sharpness.

Back in the day when Apple unveiled the iPhone 4, various reports suggested that anything above roughly 300ppi is good enough for the human eye to perceive as clear and sharp. Why then screen resolutions continued growing and growing until present-day Quad HD devices?

The latest Quad HD smartphones come (or are expected to arrive) with a pixel density as high as (the seemingly unnecessary) 534ppi! Is it really just new technology for nothing?

The third factor: viewing distance


There is another key factor that should be considered when we speak about display sharpness and clarity, though, but it’s often left out of the conversation. We’re speaking about viewing distance. Even the sharpest of TVs and the sharpest of phones starts to look flawed when you look at it from a very close distance. Look at the same device from a 1-foot distance and the clarity of the picture suddenly becomes better. Look at it from further away, and the picture would appear perfectly sharp and clear.

The question that we will answer today then is: at what viewing distance one starts actually seeing the benefit of high-res displays?

The ideal viewing distance


To measure the ideal distance between you and your smartphone display, we’ll assume you are one of the rare few who have very good vision. You’d often hear about such vision being called 20/20 vision. A person with 20/20 vision is one who can discern detail of 1 arc minute (1 arc minute = 1/60 of a degree = a circle has 360 degrees, so 1 arc minute = 1/21600th of a full circle). Most people have worse vision than that - for instance someone with 20/40 vision can only discern detail of 2 arc minutes, while the rear few (think jet pilots) with 20/10 vision can discern detail of 0.5 arc minutes. The actual limit of human vision is around 20/8, so again, we’re assuming a fairly optimistic 20/20 vision scenario.

So with all that in mind, how close do you need to be start seeing those pixels and details on even a Quad HD smartphone? And what about 1080p phones, and 720p devices? Take a look below:

  • Typical 480p phone (4” display like Galaxy S III Mini): eye starts to notice pixelization from 14.73” (37.4cm)
  • Typical 720p phone (4.7” display like Nexus 4): eye starts to notice pixelization from 11” (28cm)
  • Typical 1080p phone (5” display like Galaxy S5): eye starts to notice pixelization from 7.8” (19.8cm)
  • Typical 1440p phone (5.5” display like expected LG G3): eye starts to notice pixelization from 6.44” (16.4cm)

480p, average person starts noticing pixelization at around 14.7 inches (here - 37.4cm) in a 4-inch 480p phone
720p, average person starts noticing pixelization at around 11 inches in a 4.7-inch 720p phone

480p, average person starts noticing pixelization at around 14.7 inches (here - 37.4cm) in a 4-inch 480p phone

720p, average person starts noticing pixelization at around 11 inches in a 4.7-inch 720p phone

1080p, average person starts noticing pixelization at around 7.8 inches in a 5-inch 1080p phone
Quad HD, average person starts noticing pixelization at around 6.44 inches in a 5.5-inch 1440p phone

1080p, average person starts noticing pixelization at around 7.8 inches in a 5-inch 1080p phone

Quad HD, average person starts noticing pixelization at around 6.44 inches in a 5.5-inch 1440p phone

We've used a ruler with metric units (centimeters, rather than inches)

We've used a ruler with metric units (centimeters, rather than inches)

*we’ve used the following formulas to calculate those distances:
VIEWING DISTANCE = 1 / PPI / (2 * Tan (VISUAL RESOLUTION / 2))
PPI = X / sqrt (W ^ 2 / ((Y / X) ^ 2 + 1))), where x = horizontal resolution, y = vertical resolution, w = screen size
VISUAL RESOLUTION = (1 / VISUAL ACCUITY) * (1 / 60)
We’ve assumed 20/20 VISUAL ACCUITY

Conclusion


In conclusion, we ought to put a few disclaimers to all this. We've tried to keep it as scientifically accurate as possible, but we ought to remember that our eyes and our human vision is more complex and the actual way we see things is a lot about how the brain processes images. And that's something that is hard to measure right now.

With this in mind, we'll lay it out in very simple terms: theoretically, you need to look at your 5.5-inch Quad HD from as close as 6.4" for your eyes to start noticing pixelization (if you have 20/20 vision, if not you'd need it even close). At regular viewing distances it's practically impossible to notice the difference in sharpness between say the 1080p Galaxy S5 and the future Quad HD flagships.

Not very encouraging, is it? We, however, can still hope that theory is not all to it, and will put it all to the test very soon as the first Quad HD phones are expected to hit the market in the coming months. Stay tuned!

reference: Carlton Bale, jaredjared.com
Second image is courtesy of CNET.

107 Comments
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posted on 30 Apr 2014, 09:54 21

1. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3197; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


I cant see the difference :-( ................

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:33 13

15. Ashoaib (Posts: 1924; Member since: 15 Nov 2013)


Well, I always felt the difference with jump in display resolution

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 13:20 7

45. proto (Posts: 50; Member since: 12 Sep 2012)


well, when i replace galaxy nexus (4,65" 720p) with Galaxy S4 (5" 1080p) it was realy hard to find difference even side by side from normal veawing distance, I had to go to "recent apps" menu to finally see some differnece. No needto say theat both have pentile pixell arrangement.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 13:42 9

52. kshell1 (Posts: 1143; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)


I jumped from 480p on 4.3" with a Droid X, to 720p on 4.5" on my Moto G, there is a massive difference.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 21:55

63. Nikolas.Oliver (banned) (Posts: 1574; Member since: 01 Jul 2012)


Hey you stole my my display picture

posted on 29 May 2014, 10:14

79. Epicness1o1 (Posts: 208; Member since: 30 May 2013)


I jumped many times when I was playing basketball ^^

posted on 30 May 2014, 06:08

99. JC557 (Posts: 1038; Member since: 07 Dec 2011)


I compared the display of my LG Spectrum 2 & Moto X (4.7" @ 720) to that of my sister's HTC One M7 (4.7" @ 1080) and my M8 (okay different display size but hey) and found that at 1080 words on webpages were clearer and also allowed a bit more on screen.

I also found that I had to move the phone further away from my face when it came to the higher resolution.

QHD... maybe there'll be benefits like in media viewing but I'd have to see it in person first.

There's no question though, I cannot go back to the qHD display on my Droid Razr M... it's usable but not preferable at this point.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 20:47 1

61. joey_sfb (Posts: 2894; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


Looking at 60 TV, Full HD look quite pixilated compare to UHD or 4K.

For phone less than 5 inch 720p or HD should suffice.

That been said I will still pick the highest possible resolution available. Does not make sense to go backward as high resolution screen also mean higher specification is put in to support the screen.

posted on 29 May 2014, 10:26

81. DanishDynamite (Posts: 26; Member since: 28 Feb 2013)


UHD is 4K...

posted on 29 May 2014, 19:03

95. chebner (Posts: 140; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


UltraHD and 4K are used interchangeably, but technically they are different. True 4K, used in digital cinema, is 4096 × 2160. Ultra HD, used in TVs is 3840 x 2160. UHD is more suitable for TVs because it is exactly (1920*2) x (1080*2) which makes scaling 1080p with minimal scaling artifacts much simpler.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 13:34 2

50. akki20892 (Posts: 3434; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)


Don't try to judge me.....

http://www.jigsawexplorer.com/puzzles/subjects/eye-of-the-eagle-344x300.jpg

I'm sure this buddy can notice pixels really well.
This buddy need 5" with 1,000,000K.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 17:05 3

56. rd_nest (Posts: 768; Member since: 06 Jun 2010)


That formula they used is slightly wrong. PA mentioned:

VIEWING DISTANCE = 1 / PPI / (2 * Tan (VISUAL RESOLUTION / 2))

Instead it should be:

VIEWING DISTANCE = 1 / PPI * (2 * Tan (VISUAL RESOLUTION / 2))

Just an example (for 480p 4-inch display, PPI of 233.24) --

VIEWING DISTANCE = 1 / PPI * (2 * Tan (VISUAL RESOLUTION / 2))
= 1 / 233.24 * (2 * Tan [1/120] )
= 14.74 inch

posted on 02 May 2014, 06:57 3

72. givemespecs (unregistered)


Boooorrriiiinnnggggg

posted on 12 May 2014, 08:29 5

76. KDNISS (Posts: 3; Member since: 12 May 2014)


Stupid people do not understand the Math :)

posted on 29 May 2014, 17:01 2

92. AfterShock (Posts: 2799; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)


4 out of 3 people struggle with math.

posted on 29 May 2014, 23:07 1

97. zunaidahmed (Posts: 42; Member since: 24 Dec 2011)


I guess u r struggling..... 4 out of 3, it should be 3 out of 4......lol

posted on 30 May 2014, 01:38 2

98. ardent1 (Posts: 1994; Member since: 16 Apr 2011)


You missed the sacrcasm. Lol

posted on 13 Jun 2014, 13:35

106. iampayne (Posts: 236; Member since: 12 Aug 2013)


The Joke

_________

Your Head

posted on 21 Jul 2014, 07:08

107. TheOldOne (Posts: 86; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


thank you good sir for pointing this out.

I still don't understand why they keep mentioning "screen size"... the relevant paramter here is the PPI/DPI not the screen size!

But I guess is in the way the devices are advertized today, they only talk abour "screen size" and "resolution" and not emphasizing enough in how "fine" the display is.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 23:41 1

64. jcdz89 (Posts: 64; Member since: 01 Mar 2013)


1080p enough for phones.. 1440p enough for large tab. .that's it

posted on 29 May 2014, 11:07

84. latido (Posts: 36; Member since: 31 May 2012)


IMO, I see the different when playing HD games.. on SGS3 720p, the games look very sharp. but on note3 1080P, the games graphic look softer.

posted on 29 May 2014, 13:25

88. Kamehameha (Posts: 44; Member since: 21 Apr 2014)


"on SGS3 720p, the games look very sharp. but on note3 1080P, the games graphic look softer"

Pics or it didn't happen.

posted on 29 May 2014, 13:32

89. mmmanuuu (Posts: 209; Member since: 05 Nov 2013)


Dear phone arena why are you flooding your site by posting the same article again and again???

posted on 29 May 2014, 18:37

94. Neo_Huang (Posts: 376; Member since: 06 Dec 2013)


I think they replaced Oppo Find 7 with LG G3 as the example of a 2K phone.

posted on 30 May 2014, 12:52

101. radex (Posts: 7; Member since: 30 May 2014)


from 720p and on ... neither can I

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 09:56 11

3. Antimio (Posts: 192; Member since: 11 Nov 2013)


Amazing explanation. Thank you Guys for taking your time. Honestly, I don't mind having a 720p or 1080p. Nexus 4 and Moto X here, and pretty happy with them.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:42 2

20. KillgoreTroutTime (Posts: 280; Member since: 06 Jan 2014)


Iv'e got a Moto X and I swear the display looks much nicer than the LG G2 I had before it. I don't think my eyes really care about the difference between 720 and 1080

posted on 29 May 2014, 13:34

90. Kamehameha (Posts: 44; Member since: 21 Apr 2014)


You should be happy. You have the eyes of a normal human, not an eagle.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 09:57 9

4. MalakiMills (Posts: 256; Member since: 15 Jun 2010)


I think 1080p is the sweet spot for smart phone displays right. I generally stay away from the idea that there is a "cap" on any sort of advancement, and I do think displays can still be improved upon. Resolution however is good where it is. I'd rather see things like battery, graphics, camera, and software optimizations continue to be pushed ahead with priority over displays.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:44 5

21. KillgoreTroutTime (Posts: 280; Member since: 06 Jan 2014)


There is a cap. The human body can only experience things to a certain level. We have already reached the cap for music quality regardless of what supporters of pseudoscience have to say about it. We could make phones emit in infrared and ultra violet, but it is not like it would be noticeable to us.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:00

5. rkoforever90 (Posts: 78; Member since: 03 Dec 2011)


i cant notice any pixelation difference between a 1080p htc one and 720p htc one x

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 11:55 2

34. irbaaz (Posts: 44; Member since: 27 Mar 2014)


So, according to this article you are not average person.

Even I cant't :p

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:00 1

6. KillerKeyboard (Posts: 307; Member since: 21 Nov 2013)


Good article Victor... Thumbs up. :]

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:01 1

7. ArtSim98 (limited) (Posts: 2738; Member since: 21 Dec 2012)


Nice article! I will skip this quad HD fuss. I'll just wait for 4K or something new

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:04 1

8. mobi_user (Posts: 107; Member since: 18 Jun 2013)


The next wave of phone revolutions seems to be only with 3D technology. Something like Tony Stark Phone. Screen resolution and processor speed are just gimmick.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:47

23. KillgoreTroutTime (Posts: 280; Member since: 06 Jan 2014)


I agree with the speed gimmick. My old Iphone 4 is still as fast as I would ever need a phone to be.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 11:36 3

32. salaal (Posts: 94; Member since: 08 Dec 2013)


My old iphone 4 on ios 7.1.1 lags hell lot! Is your iphone 4 a special edition?

posted on 30 May 2014, 09:20

100. chebner (Posts: 140; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


My daughter's iphone4 was laggy as hell the day she got it brand new 2 years ago. At the time I thought, how could she want this over my EVO 4g LTE or a GS3. She was in awe that she had an iPhone, typical Apple lover response.

It was her first phone so she probably didn't realize how slow it was. We took advantage of the deal Best Buy was running a last weekend and got her a 5s. After a few hours, without being asked she commented on how fast it was compared to her 4.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:05 5

9. AJagtiani (limited) (Posts: 460; Member since: 24 Apr 2014)


Can we concentrate on battery life, OEMs ?

posted on 03 May 2014, 14:28 1

74. 14545 (Posts: 1106; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)


This^ x2.

I would rather a phone that can average 10 hours of screen time in 2 days(48 hours) than a stupid 1440p screen. I can see a difference when I put the phone up to my nose, but how often does one do that? I mean really? Not to mention, 1440 isn't even mainstream, so it is useless without video/etc that supports it.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:09 4

10. ArtSim98 (limited) (Posts: 2738; Member since: 21 Dec 2012)


Personally I don't think PPI matters. It's all about the resolution (and kinda viewing distance too) For example, I would very likely prefer watching a movie on 50 inch Full HD TV than an iPhone. Even though the iPhone's PPI is many times as high as a 1080p 50 inch TV. The TV picture would still have MUCH more details visible.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 12:08 1

35. tedkord (Posts: 4719; Member since: 17 Jun 2009)


That's because of the ppi and viewing distance. Try watching that 50 inch from 2-3 feet distance. You'll notice it looks much less Sharp than when you sit 8 feet away.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 12:44

39. ArtSim98 (limited) (Posts: 2738; Member since: 21 Dec 2012)


Yeah, but even if you look at it from lets say 2-3 meters away it looks sharp. And there's just much more detail because it has almost three times the amount of pixels than an iPhone 5S. And let's say a 23 inch full HD screen. It looks sharp from even less than a meter away. Still the PPI is 95 vs the 326 of the iPhone. Much more details. The smaller the screen is, the closer you have to look. And the PPI automatically goes up when screen size goes down.

So I think PPI is not important when comparing screens, because it doesn't tell how much detail there is on the screen. It just tells how close you can look at the screen while still remaining sharp, but the watching distance already determines after the size of the screen. So no PPI stuff needed.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 13:21

47. StanleyG88 (Posts: 76; Member since: 15 Mar 2012)


No..they would be the same. They both have 1920x1080=2073600 pixels. It's just that the phone has them jammed into about 5 inches and the TV has them in 50 inches (diagonal for each). The TV probably looks like it has more detail because the detail are just larger and easier to see. The same detail is on the phone but much smaller and harder to see with the naked eye.

Only thing 4K will be good for is on TV's because then people can put a 80-90 inch TV in a smaller room and sit closer and it will still look clear.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 13:30

49. ArtSim98 (limited) (Posts: 2738; Member since: 21 Dec 2012)


iPhone 5S resolution is 640x1136

I have been with you the whole time. I was saying that PPI doesn't matter, as you said too. It's the resolution. I was saying the same thing as you. If resolution is same, the picture looks same no matter how big the display is. Of course you have to adjust your viewing distance to the screen size.

Comment #39 for more

posted on 29 May 2014, 13:39

91. Kamehameha (Posts: 44; Member since: 21 Apr 2014)


"If resolution is same, the picture looks same no matter how big the display is."

I couldn't disagree. Why can you observe more detail under a microscope than with your naked eye?? The resolution (in this case, the number of atoms) remains the same. But enlarging it allows you to see more detail.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:09 3

11. Desmortibus (Posts: 58; Member since: 04 Apr 2014)


I think that, realistically speaking, anything above 720 is overkill, but 1080 (and even more so 1440...) gives us a sense of irrational "beyond" that's good for the soul... My only worry is battery life which is, by far, the most important factor that should never be sacrificed.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:45

22. KillgoreTroutTime (Posts: 280; Member since: 06 Jan 2014)


Well said.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 12:10 2

38. tedkord (Posts: 4719; Member since: 17 Jun 2009)


It depends on your vision and viewing distance.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 12:50

42. jroc74 (Posts: 4720; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


I agree with both of you...

Just using phones with Pentile screens over the past few years....LCD phones over the past few years.....

At some point...the phone screen is just too small to really make a difference....unless...like you say..... your vision and viewing distance comes into play. The only times my phone is held closer than normal is in bed, lying down. Thats it.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:22 1

12. N-fanboy (Posts: 538; Member since: 12 Jan 2013)


read it, informative.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:30 1

13. KillerKeyboard (Posts: 307; Member since: 21 Nov 2013)


Life of Pi. Very creative thumbnail. :]

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:36 1

16. xperiaDROID (limited) (Posts: 5399; Member since: 08 Mar 2013)


I really miss the time when I was using my old Xperia P with a 4 inch 540 x 960 pixels (275 ppi) display, it was the standard for a mid end phone that time. Then after that, I upgraded to the Xperia Z with 5 inch 1080p (441ppi) and using it till now and I like it. Tbh, 1080p is already enough, I don't need Quad HD 2K, but since technology is getting far and better, we have no choice and must follow. But, the most important thing is the battery life, so hope the manufacturers will focus more on this.

Anyway, thanks Victor for the informative article!

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 11:38

33. salaal (Posts: 94; Member since: 08 Dec 2013)


Now you need to upgrade to the Xperia Z4. That would be a huge upgrade for you.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 19:21

58. solidsnake695 (Posts: 47; Member since: 04 Jan 2013)


basically 2k aka QHD is 720p multiply 2 times thats it lol not gonna waste money till next year

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:40 2

17. rjmlive (Posts: 28; Member since: 07 Apr 2012)


For further reference, the 24" monitor you have at home is probably around 96 ppi. My 4" 800x480 display at 235 ppi is plenty for the functions I need my phone for, including all media consumption.

The only innovation I really want to see next is full power smart phone OS able to run for 30 days without a recharge or simply just advances towards that.

There is such thing as too thin, there is such thing as unecessary resolution, there is such thing as too big/too small, but there is no such thing as lasts too long.

posted on 03 May 2014, 16:46

75. 14545 (Posts: 1106; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)


I do actually like 720/1080 screens because they make smaller text more easily readable. but anything beyond that is just crazy.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:40 2

18. RaulBlas (Posts: 11; Member since: 31 Mar 2014)


PHONE ARENA: Why don´t you do a blind test, where only the screen of the phone is visible (the rest is masked) and ask as many people as you can wich phone has the higher resolution screen. This test, obviously has to be done with the people looking to the actual phones, it cannot be a photo based test.
I bet that most of the people won´t notice the difference between 720p and higher resolutions, looking at 10 inches or more. Actually is very uncomfortable looking to a screen much closer than that.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:41 1

19. MarkArigayo (Posts: 240; Member since: 18 Dec 2013)


I can see clearly any differences between 1080p on G2 and 720p on Note 2.

The image displayed on screen of G2 (424ppi) is notably sharper than those of Note 2 (267ppi). But I haven't seen an image displayed on a QHD screen. For daily web browsing, I'd like to use an IPS display than the AMOLED.

posted on 30 Apr 2014, 10:50 3

24. KillgoreTroutTime (Posts: 280; Member since: 06 Jan 2014)


My 720p Moto X looks better than my previous G2, I don't think it is just the 720/1080 that makes screens look better.

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