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Screen resolution has always been an upward trend that can be somewhat comparable to Moore’s Law. The jump from each resolution standard has always traditionally been very noticeable, with greater and greater detail available for graphics applications at each step.However, after full HD 1080p resolution became mainstream, going higher became a bit of a slog. Improvements are still quite noticeable, but the real-world differences didn’t seem to matter much, at least when it comes to most casual users.
So the question remains: how exactly are they manually differentiated? And what real-world observations can we make that could take each full HD resolution at a practical level?
Table of Contents
Basic Pixel Differences
A pixel is technically described as a physical point on a screen. When a composite of pixels is combined, they can create images. Flash those images many times in a single second, and you get a motion video output.
The number of pixels aligned together in an entire screen is what we then call a resolution. When you see the numbers 640×480, this means that the screen has 640 pixels horizontally and 480 pixels vertically. The ‘x’ in between is often colloquially mentioned as ‘by’, not ‘times’. So our example would be refered to as “six-forty by four-eighty” pixels.
When it comes to widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) HD resolutions, the vertical pixel number, or length, often determines a screen resolution name or designation. For example, a 1280×720 screen has a vertical length of 720 pixels, thus it is known as a 720p (“seven-twenty p”).
With all this knowledge in mind, we can now enumerate the rest of the full HD resolution lineup:
- 1080p = 1920×1080 (“ten-eighty p”)
- 1440p = 2160×1440 (“fourteen-forty p”)
UHD, or ultra-high-definition resolutions, present a very significant jump in the number of screen pixels, and are therefore given slightly different, more shortened designations:
- 4K (UHD) = 3840×2160 (2160p)
- 8K (UHD) = 7680×4320 (4320p)
Several other non-standard resolutions are also sitting between 4K and 8K, such as 5K (5120×2880). However, these are mostly limited to specific products and are not as widely available. Technology-wise, the visual difference from 1440p to 4K is about the same difference as the jump from 4:3 aspect ratio 640×480 to 16:9 aspect ratio 1280×720 HD back in the early 2000s. But while 4K screens are becoming quite normal now, 8K screens are still pretty much treated as luxury consumer tech. (more on that later)
Pixels may be considered as points on a screen, but there is actually no exact size specification for such ‘point’, or for a screen for that matter. This means that, given sufficiently advanced production technologies, it is possible to cram many pixels in smaller screens than what otherwise would have been reasonably known.
This is where the concept of pixel density comes in. The term is pretty self-explanatory; it is simply the number of pixels fitted within a specific unit of length.
For example, a laptop with a 16:9 ratio 14-inch screen will have an approximate physical dimension of 12.2×6.9 inches. If this particular screen has a full 1080p HD (1920×1080 pixels) resolution, then the number of pixels per inch, or relative pixel density, will be:
- Using Length: 1920 pixels/12.2 inches = 157 pixels per inch
- Using Height/Width: 1080 pixels/6.9 inches = 157 pixels per inch
Take note that “pixels per inch” is often abbreviated to PPI, which is the spec label listed on modern products with screens. This means that the PPI values for most given consumer products are usually already provided. Thus, you usually don’t need to do any of the calculations above.
In conclusion, it is generally accepted that the smaller the screen and the larger the resolution, the higher the overall pixel density (PPI) of that screen will be. For our full HD/UHD comparisons, we will use the following 27-inch monitors:
Screen Refresh Rates
When video output is played on a monitor, what actually happens is that the screen and the GPU shows the human eye sets of images. Because it is too fast for us to perceive them as separate images, the illusion of motion is provided. Each slice of a video shown is called a frame. So the speed at which these frames are shown is known as frames-per-second or FPS. Because FPS is technically a measure of frequency (how many times something appeared/occurred in a moment), the unit Hertz (Hz) is also used to denote refresh rates.
For most HD screens today, the most common and the lowest refresh rate is 60Hz. However, many screens now offer much higher refresh rates to allow even smoother visual rendering. Many typical gaming monitors, for example, offer refresh rates of 75Hz or 144Hz. Some screens at the extreme end even offer “overclocked” refresh rates, such as the Asus TUF Gaming VG279QM (Amazon Link), which can be set at a whopping 280Hz.
That being said, refresh rates are usually often a matter of preference rather than necessity. But if you want a few baselines on why such refresh rates would be needed, take a look at this shortlist:
- 30Hz/FPS – PS4 Pro/Xbox One (specific “lower-end” titles), old monitors
- 60Hz/FPS – current standard refresh rate
- 75Hz/FPS – usually for added visual stability (in games)
- 90Hz/FPS – the minimum level required for VR (anything lower can cause motion sickness)
- 120Hz/FPS and above – competitive refresh rate (first-person shooters, online games)
It is interesting to mention that 8K monitors are typically offered only with a max refresh rate of 60fps. One reason is the production cost of such super expensive screens. But perhaps another plausible reason is that current graphics cards currently cannot provide significantly higher frame rates when applications are rendered in 8K.
One final note, if you want refresh rates higher than 60Hz, a DisplayPort (1080p, 1440p, 4K) or an HDMI 1.4 (1080p) connection is usually required on your output device. Check the type connector you will use first to see if your monitor can output higher refresh rates.
Price Difference of For Each Resolution
As briefly mentioned earlier, production costs are why retail prices can wildly differ between screen resolutions. While the physical size determines the bulk of the cost, a particular screen’s pixel density will also significantly drive the cost upward. This is especially true when it comes to 4K models.
Is 1440p Worth it for gaming?
For our conclusion, based on all the information that we presented earlier, it would seem that the best bang for the buck when it comes to gaming goes to 1440p.
1080p, while being the cheapest and adequate for those baseline HD settings in games, lacks the higher qualities needed to represent the ultra-high level of detail accurately. Sure 4K and 8K beats 1440p soundly in this category, but both resolutions are usually only available on monitors with exorbitantly high prices. With a 1440p monitor, you are given what is essentially the best of both worlds. You gain very noticeable higher screen quality without having the drain your bank account.
In addition, 1440p also gives more or less the same quality level while still providing reasonable hardware overhead for many graphics cards. In fact, when appropriately tweaked, 1440p can even be available to lower-end entry-level GPUs such as the RX 5500 XT or GTX 1650 Super, which have been traditionally known as 1080p-optimized cards.
Another bonus is that at 1440p, games usually start to become more GPU-bound, therefore lessening the load on your CPU. Given the “best of both worlds” statement earlier, this would either allow you to use a slightly lower-end (thus cheaper) CPU, or free up the CPU for better multi-tasking, such as when streaming your game sessions.