Resolution and Pixel Size

If you have shopped for a television, computer, or a digital camera, you have no doubt heard the term “resolution”. It may have been stated as a number, 1366×768, an acronym, WXGA, or even Megapixels, but any way it’s stated it’s an expression of the pixel dimensions of a viewing panel or the size of a picture. But what exactly does it mean? Read on and hopefully you will gain a better understanding of what those numbers mean.

For a basic understanding of resolution expressed as a number, let’s look first at a square with a left to right and top to bottom dimension of four inches. In order to visualize what resolution is, we’ll divide that square evenly into four parts each being one inch high by one inch wide. What you end up with is a square with four squares inside of it, two left to right and two top to bottom, which can be expressed as 2×2. That 2×2 is the resolution of the square. Each of the four elements in the square has the same dimension, and can be thought of as an exaggerated pixel. The word pixel simply means, “picture element”, which is defined as a single point in an image. Now a computer screen or TV is rarely square, it is a rectangle, wider left to right than it is top to bottom. That is why resolution stated as a number is usually 1024×600, 1366×768, 1680×1050, and so on. It would not do much good to have a square resolution in a rectangular panel; the pixels would have to be rectangular if you were to fit an even amount across the screen as well as up and down. Therefore the resolution is always expressed as a larger number over a smaller number, so the pixels remain square.

To help relate this to what appears on a computer screen or TV, it is important to understand that every image, even an icon on the screen, has a pixel dimension. Icons come in many different sizes, such as 16×16, 24×24, 32×32 and so on. The numerical size of the icon is its resolution expressed as pixels high x wide. So the more resolution you have in a given panel, the more elements, such icons, can be displayed on that panel. And this is how panel size and resolution are related; if a panel has a resolution of 1366×768, it will not matter if that is a 12 inch panel or a 24 inch panel, you still have 1366 horizontal lines and 768 vertical lines. The pixels in the larger panel will be bigger because the panel is bigger, however the pixels will contain the same information. Conversely if you increase the resolution, to say 1680×1050, and keep the panel size the same, you gain pixels, they are just a little smaller, which is a higher resolution when compared to 1366×768.

This is the concept behind why a 15″ screen at 1680×1050 can display more information than a 15″ screen at 1366×768. Take the icons on your computer screen for example. Imagine the icons are 24×24 and arranged vertically along the left side of your screen. It is easy to see you will be able to fit more of those 24×24 icons on a 1680 x1050 display resolution than you would on a 1366 x768 display resolution. This translates into other elements you may display as well. You could for example arrange 2 documents side by side, each one adjusted to a horizontal resolution of 840 on a 1680 monitor with no problems. The same cannot be done on a 1366 horizontal monitor, as each document would have to be adjusted to 683 pixels wide to fit.

When you speak of modern televisions, you think of high definition. In the USA, we have resolutions of 720p and 1080p that are considered HD (High Definition). But you may not be able to see the 1080p unless your monitor or TV has at least a 1080 vertical resolution. So even a 1680×1050 monitor cannot show 1080p, but a 1920×1080 monitor certainly can. You will often see the 1920×1080 screens referred to as “Full HD”.

So keep in mind that resolution of a given panel is expressed as a pixel dimension or an acronym that refers to a specific pixel dimension. Increasing the size of a given panel without increasing resolution only yields a larger picture. Increasing the resolution of the panel will allow you to display more of the picture, or more elements on the panel.

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