The difference between 1080p and 1080i

Display specifications can be complicated, considering there are multiple factors to consider – like resolution, refresh rates, contrast ratio, aspect ratio, display size, and HDR capabilities.

When looking at TVs and the source signals they receive, a point of contention is the difference between 1080p and 1080i, and what it means for the average TV owner.

Below is a simple explanation of what the differences are and what you need to know about the standards.

Progressive and Interlaced

1080p and 1080i refer to a display resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, and it is the suffixes attached to the resolution number that you must pay attention to.

The “p” in 1080p stands for “progressive”, while the “i” in 1080i means “interlaced”.

These terms refer to the scanning technique used to display, store, and transmit images.

Progressive scanning is a common method for displaying video, with entire images displayed a certain amount of times per second. This depends on the frames per second of the source video and the refresh rate of the TV.

Interlaced scanning is different, and involves a technique in which alternating halves of an image are displayed per interlacing “field”.

A single frame of interlaced 1080i video consists of two sequential 1920 x 540 images, with the first field consisting of all odd-numbered vertical pixel lines and the second all even-numbered pixel lines.

Both these half-images together create a frame every 30th of a second.

This means if a second of 1080i video consists of 30 “1,920 x 1,080” frames, it includes 60 “1,920 x 540 fields”.

An important note is that when the source video is 1080i/60, there are in fact no full images – as each of the 60 interlaced fields occupy a different point in time and 30 interlaced frames are displayed per second.

This results in a slight offset or reduction in quality when fast movement is displayed or the video is deinterlaced and viewed on a 1080p panel.

Deinterlaced car wheel

Visual Difference

Due to the fidelity and fully-displayed frames, a 1080p video delivers a sharper and more refined image which can provide better quality during scenes with lots of motion.

Interlaced video suffers in scenes with lots of motion, as it only displays half an image at a single point in time. This makes it difficult to display fast movement.

Compared to progressive scan, interlaced video has more jagged edges and motion artifacts.

Visual quality of 1080i video can also depend on your TV, as some video processors are better at deinterlacing video than others.

Broadcast and Decoding

Currently, DStv broadcasts in 1080i and 720p, and does not offer Full HD quality.

Users who use a 1080p TV to watch DStv are in fact watching deinterlaced 1080i video or a 720p broadcast.

A major reason for 1080i broadcasts is reduced bandwidth requirements and infrastructure limitations.

DStv said in 2016 it would not offer Full HD broadcasts any time soon, as their implementation would require changes to broadcast infrastructure and use more bandwidth than the current broadcast resolutions.

Now read: Most-watched TV shows in South Africa

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The difference between 1080p and 1080i