High-definition Video - Technical Details

Technical Details

High definition video (prerecorded and broadcast) is defined threefold, by:

  • The number of lines in the vertical display resolution. High-definition television (HDTV) resolution is 1,080 or 720 lines. In contrast, regular digital television (DTV) is 480 lines (upon which NTSC is based, 480 visible scanlines out of 525) or 576 lines (upon which PAL/SECAM are based, 576 visible scanlines out of 625). However, since HD is broadcast digitally, its introduction sometimes coincides with the introduction of DTV. Additionally, current DVD quality is not high-definition, although the high-definition disc systems Blu-ray Disc and the defunct HD DVD are.
  • The scanning system: progressive scanning (p) or interlaced scanning (i). Progressive scanning (p) redraws an image frame (all of its lines) when refreshing each image, for example 720p/1080p. Interlaced scanning (i) draws the image field every other line or "odd numbered" lines during the first image refresh operation, and then draws the remaining "even numbered" lines during a second refreshing, for example 1080i. Interlaced scanning yields greater image resolution if subject is not moving, but loses up to half of the resolution and suffers "combing" artifacts when subject is moving.
  • The number of frames or fields per second (Hz). In Europe more common (50 Hz) television broadcasting system and in USA (60 Hz). The 720p60 format is 1,280 × 720 pixels, progressive encoding with 60 frames per second (60 Hz). The 1080i50 format is 1920 × 1080 pixels, interlaced encoding with 50 fields, (50 Hz) per second. Two interlaced fields formulate a single frame, because the two fields of one frame are temporally shifted. Frame pulldown and segmented frames are special techniques that allow transmitting full frames by means of interlaced video stream.

Often, the rate is inferred from the context, usually assumed to be either 50 Hz (Europe) or 60 Hz (USA), except for 1080p, which denotes 1080p24, 1080p25, and 1080p30, but also 1080p50 and 1080p60.

A frame or field rate can also be specified without a resolution. For example 24p means 24 progressive scan frames per second and 50i means 25 progressive frames per second, consisting of 50 interlaced fields per second. Most HDTV systems support some standard resolutions and frame or field rates. The most common are noted below. High-definition signals require a high-definition television or computer monitor in order to be viewed. High-definition video has an aspect ratio of 16:9 (1.78:1). The aspect ratio of regular widescreen film shot today is typically 1.85:1 or 2.39:1 (sometimes traditionally quoted at 2.35:1). Standard-definition television (SDTV) has a 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio, although in recent years many broadcasters have transmitted programs "squeezed" horizontally in 16:9 anamorphic format, in hopes that the viewer has a 16:9 set which stretches the image out to normal-looking proportions, or a set which "squishes" the image vertically to present a "letterbox" view of the image, again with correct proportions.

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