HDTV vs. SDTV: What You Should Know


From color to remote controls to cable, television has come a long way.

Components of television have become more complex. Most TV watchers aren’t concerned with the technical side. They just want clear, life-like picture and incredible, dynamic sound. That’s not too much to ask, is it? As of October 2013, every TV manufactured was HD-ready.

In simple terms, HDTV has better screen quality than SDTV.

So what are HDTV and SDTV?

SDTV: SDTV stands for standard-definition television. SDTV refers to any TV with a resolution of 720 x 480. SDTV has been the standard for TV quality since 1941.

HDTV: HDTV stands for high-definition television. HDTV is a newer technology that began to replace SDTV in the late 1990s. It has a higher resolution than SDTV – either 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080.

Picture resolution is measured in horizontal lines by vertical lines. Most television manufacturers advertise only the vertical resolution of the display. That’s measured as 1080, 720 or 480.

What’s the difference?

HDTV and SDTV have different resolutions. But what does that mean?

Resolution refers to picture quality. A higher resolution means better picture quality. And that’s the main difference between HDTV and SDTV – HDTV has a much better picture.

There are two different kinds of HDTV – standard HD and full HD. Full HD uses progressive scanning. It redraws entire images within their refresh cycles, enhancing the picture quality further.

It’s not just the resolution that matters. HDTV uses digital signals instead of analog. Digital signals reduce electrical interference, improving picture quality. HDTV screens also have different aspect ratios: 16 units wide for every 9 units tall, instead of the 4 x 3 ratio used by SDTV.

Picture quality is more realistic at 16 x 9 because it’s closer to how humans see the real world.

There’s no contest – HDTV is better for everything, from watching TV and movies to gaming. The new Xbox One, set for release this fall, won’t support SDTV or analog connections.

Is SDTV a thing of the past?

It took HDTVs a while to catch on – even though it provides a much better quality, they were more expensive than standard SDTVs. Now, most of the televisions produced are HDTVs, and you’d have to look hard to find someone with an SDTV.

If you’re trying to buy one, you’ll probably have to hit up a pawn shop.

But that doesn’t mean SDTV is a thing of the past. Even though you might not realize it, almost all the video content you stream online is in standard definition – from YouTube to Netflix to HuluPlus.

And even if you stream online content to your TV from a Chromecast or a Roku, it will most likely show up in standard definition.


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This post was written by the Beacon team.

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