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SD, HD and 4K – Streaming Video Resolutions Explained 11 March 2020

streaming video resolutions


The dynamics of video delivery and consumption are changing rapidly in today’s world and keeping pace with the constantly evolving video streaming standards is becoming a challenging job not for just content owners but broadcasting and streaming distributors as well.

One of the key aspects of delivering a good quality video is understanding and determining the correct video resolution of an on-demand video or live stream. Alongside frame rate, it’s the top-most feature to keep in mind to determine video quality.


Why does Video Resolution matter?

Although various factors affect the quality of video streaming like frame rate, compression processes etc, video resolution is the most basic and most dominating parameter because it reflects the detail of the frames of the video. 

Resolution greatly influences the viewing experience, particularly when the video is played on large screens. As a content creator, you should start caring about video resolutions if you want your on-demand video or live streams to reach a wider audience.

So, without further ado, lets jump right into the basics of video resolution. In the next 5 minutes you are going to get a detailed overview of streaming video resolutions i.e. SD (480p + 480i), HD (720p, 1080i, + 1080p) and 4K video resolutions.


Some quick FAQs about Video Resolution


What is video resolution?



Simply put, video resolution is the number of pixels that make up a single frame in your video and pixels are the smallest units that make up a picture in a video frame. Ideally, the more pixels the image has, the better is the clarity of the image.


480p | 720p | 1080p – What’s with the numbers?

When you hear labels of these sort, remember that they are pixels displayed in the video, width by height. For example, when you see “1920p x 1080p” in a video description, you can know it’s saying the image is 1920 pixels wide, and 1080 pixels tall.

Generally, when we define a video resolution, we refer to the height of the pixels. For example when we talk about 1080p, we mean that the quantity of pixels displayed by height is 1080p while the quantity of pixels displayed by width is 1920p (1920p X 1080p)


What is Aspect Ratio?

Aspect ratio is the proportional relation between the width and height of an image. For example, a 16:9 aspect ratio means that for every 16 inches wide, the image must be 9 inches tall. The aspect ratio tends to be wider than taller for sharper definition.


What is ‘i’ and ‘p’ in video resolution?

We often come across the letters ‘i’ and ‘p’ after the numbers 720, 1080 and so on. These letters refer to the method in which the video has been recorded where ‘i’ stands for ‘interlaced’ and ‘p’ stands for ‘progressive’  or ‘non-interlaced’. 

Interlacing video is a technique for doubling the perceived frame rate of a video display without consuming extra bandwidth.  What happens in interlacing is that your eyes in reality gauge every alternative line of a picture frame. However,  your eyes while perceiving the full image in motion, start filling in the gaps making a complete picture out of it. 

As opposed to interlacing, Progressive scanning is a technique of displaying or transmitting moving images in which all the lines of each frame are drawn in sequence, without alteration. Progressive method delivers a better resolution in general, as the motion appears more fluid.

So, it’s clear that- the more horizontal lines of resolution used to make each frame of video, the more detailed the picture will appear making progressive scanning much better than interlacing.


Storage and bandwidth

The amount of space your video files occupy will determine how much bandwidth they will consume.

It’s simple. The more detailed the video, the larger and heavier the file will be and the more bandwidth they will consume. For example, 1 hour of HD video on average will require 8GB of storage. 4K files will require much more storage and bandwidth.


What is SD (Standard Definition)?

As its name suggests, the quality of SD resolution (640 X 480) refers to the standard for most of distribution/reproduction channels and screens.The resolution refers to a pixel height of 480 in a single image.

For broadcasters, it’s the starting point. In the US, only interlaced (480i) is available and tends to have a square-ish aspect ratio, ie, 4:3. Generally speaking, SD quality tends to look blurry and much less defined, particularly when compared to HD. 

You can identify SD video files with the following specifications:

  • 480i

  • 720 x 480

  • 4:3 or 1.33


Is it okay to go for SD?

As a content creator, if you want to start streaming in SD before upgrading to HD version, you are not alone. Although it is okay for you to start with SD, you should remember that HD is the new standard and sooner or later you have to start producing videos in HD resolution. 



What is HD (High Definition)?

HD or high definition resolution is the new resolution streaming standard and refers to a pixel height of either 720 or 1080 pixels. HD delivers more details per pixel, and hence, the image is much clearer, sharper, and more “real”. 

HD has two variants- 720 (HD Ready) or 1080 (Full HD) pixels tall, each with its corresponding display resolution. While its available in both progressive and interlaced scanning, the progressive variant produces a superior quality image than interlacing which causes blurry images not much different than SD.

1080p, the progressive format of 1080, is used widely across internet content especially on platforms like YouTube and Netflix. 


Should I stream my videos in HD?

It completely depends on your resources, intention and upload speed. Streaming in HD does not necessarily guarantee that your viewers are going to watch your high quality videos as it completely depends on the network conditions and internet speed of their playback devices.

Quality streaming also requires resources. Consider YouTube- to stream the highest possible resolution at the highest possible framerate you would require an upload speed of 51 Mbps. Also, a higher resolution stream would require more processing power.

However, having said that, you should always strive to create the best viewing experience for everyone who stops by your stream. Usually, content owners stream at least 720p


What is 4K?

4K or Ultra HD is the new kid on the block and everyone is gushing about it. So 4K is actually 2160 X 3840 pixels, but by ‘4K’ we refer not to the height of the pixels but the width of the pixels (3840p from which the name ‘4K’ is derived). 

There are two variants of 4K:

  • 3840 x 2160 pixels (mostly used by TV broadcasters, and online media channels like YouTube)


  • 4096 x 2160 pixels (mostly used in the movie projection industry)


Many TV broadcasters, streaming platforms and cinema projecting companies have adopted this definition already, but 4K-capable viewing devices are not yet used on a large scale. However, Ultra HD in all its variants is expected to be the new standard in the next 10 years, just as HD is the most popular format now.

For more details on 4K, read our blog What is 4K Live Streaming?


Overview of SD, HD, Full HD and 4K Resolution



What Resolution to Use for Streaming Videos?

The higher the streaming resolution, the better is the quality of viewing experience on any given platform. However, as already mentioned earlier,  higher resolution also requires higher bandwidth to stream the video effectively.

The two most preferred resolution settings for live streaming are HD ready at 720 x 1080 pixels (720p) and Full HD at 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p).

It is best to either match your original video source, or scale it down. For example you can capture at HD 720 and stream at either HD 720 or 480p.

Scaling up and streaming at a higher resolution than your original video source is never a good option as there will be no gain in quality and in turn you will be losing more bandwidth than what is necessary for you and your viewers.

For example, it does not make sense to capture at 720p and stream at 1080p as higher resolutions require greater processing power to encode the stream. Attempting too high of a resolution on too little or poor processing power can result in degraded image quality and interrupted streams.


Why Choose Muvi?

At Muvi, we offer an instantly deployable streaming platform that is specifically designed to deliver the highest-quality video resolution streaming to users all across the globe. Our state-of-the-art 2X faster encoding and transcoding engine automatically convert the resolution / bitrate into 4K, 2K, 1080, 720, 640, 480, 360, 240, 144 formats and components needed for high dynamic range (HDR) video delivering higher resolution videos with greater color representation.   


Sign-up now and take a 14-days free trial for better understanding.



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Sreejata Basu
Sreejata works as the Content Manager for Muvi’s Content Marketing unit. She is a passionate writer with a background in English Literature and music. By week Sreejata spends her time in the corporate world of Muvi, but on weekends she likes to take short hiking trips, watch movies and read interesting travelogues.

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