Low-definition television

Last updated

Low-definition television (LDTV) refers to TV systems that have a lower screen resolution than standard-definition TV systems. The term is usually used in reference to digital TV, in particular when broadcasting at the same (or similar) resolution as low-definition analog TV systems. Mobile DTV systems usually transmit in low definition, as do all slow-scan TV systems.



The most common source of LDTV programming is the Internet, where mass distribution of higher-resolution video files could previously overwhelm computer servers and take too long to download. Many mobile phones and portable devices such as Apple’s iPod nano, or Sony’s PlayStation Portable use LDTV video, as higher-resolution files would have no perceivable advantage when viewed on their low resolution displays (320×240 and 480×272 pixels respectively). The 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th generation of iPod nano has an LDTV screen, as do the first three generations of iPod touch and iPhone (480×320).

For the first years of its existence, YouTube offered only one, low-definition resolution of 320x240 at 30fps or less, later extending first to widescreen 426×240, then to gradually higher resolutions; once the video service had become well established and had been acquired by Google, it had access to Google’s radically improved storage space and transmission bandwidth, and could rely on a good proportion of its users having high-speed internet connections. In 2013, YouTube extended further into the LDTV realm by adding an even lower 256×144p resolution with a halved framerate [1] giving an overall effect reminiscent of early online video streaming attempts using RealVideo or similar services, where 160×120 at single-figure framerates was deemed acceptable to cater to those whose network connections could not even sufficiently deliver 240p content.

A VHS videotape can be considered SDTV due to its resolution (approximately 360 pixels by 480 or 576 pixels, the latter number depending on if it’s from a NTSC or PAL region), but using VHS for professional production will yield results subjectively comparable to LDTV because of VHS's low bandwidth, particularly in the field of color reproduction. VHS does, however, still provide high motion and a relatively high vertical resolution via interlacing, which is a feature uncommon in true LDTV material, and reasonable luma resolution.

In comparison, professional-level Betacam SP tape produces approximately a 440×486/576 resolution and some college TV studios use Super VHS at approximately 560×486/576, along with an increased colour carrier bandwidth. Both of these systems, whilst showing a marked improvement over VHS, ultimately offer lower resolution images than DVD, but are still comparable to (and thus remain useful for) lower-bandwidth broadcast television, which is compromised in the analogue domain by a narrower available frequency range for each individual channel, and in the digital by a literally lower horizontal pixel count (often 480 or 544, versus the 720 of DVD and full-rate SDTV broadcasts). Again, both systems offer high motion and a high vertical resolution by way of interlacing, and are more justifiably counted as SD rather than LD.

Older video game consoles and home computers often generated a technically-compliant NTSC or PAL signal (480i and 576i respectively) but only sent one field type rather than alternating between the two. This created a 240 or 288 line progressive signal, which in theory can be decoded on any receiver that can decode normal, interlaced signals. [2] [3] [4] Since the shadow mask and beam width of standard CRT televisions were designed for interlaced signals, these systems produced a distinctive fixed pattern of alternating bright and dark scan lines; many emulators for older systems offer video filters to recreate this effect.

The Video CD format was introduced with the CD-i, and it likewise originally used a progressive LDTV signal [ citation needed ] (352×240 or 352×288), which is half the vertical and horizontal resolution of full-bandwidth SDTV. However, most DVD and SVCD players, as well as VCD 2.0 players (which can display still images at 704×480/576 pixels and offer limited DVD menu-esque functions), will internally upscale VCD material to 480i/576i (or 480p/576p for progressive-scan players) for playback, as this is both more widely compatible and gives a better overall appearance. No motion information is lost due to this process, as, unlike the single-field output of classic computers and consoles, VCD video is not high-motion and only plays back at 25 or 30 frames per second. A similar recording standard (quarter-resolution and half framerate) is also used for super-long-play home DVD recording, although it does not typically adhere to the same bitrate or encoding specifications, and could therefore be considered LDTV (regular "LP" DVD recording is closest in spec to a high grade VHS or Betamax recording, having half the normal horizontal resolution and a lower bitrate, but otherwise being identical to a full-rate "SP" recording, including high-motion interlace, and thus still qualifies as SDTV).

With the late 1980s introduction of 16-bit and 32-bit computers/game consoles, such as the Atari ST, the Commodore Amiga, the Super NES, [4] and the Sega Genesis, outputs up to 480i/576i were supported for the first time, but rarely used due to heavy demands on processing power and memory. Standard resolutions also had a tendency to produce noticeable flicker at horizontal edges unless employed quite carefully, such as using anti-aliasing, which was either not available or computationally exorbitant. Thus, 240p/288p remained the primary format on most games of the fourth and fifth generation consoles (including the Sega Saturn, the Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo 64). With the advent of sixth generation consoles and the launch of the Dreamcast, 480i/576i use became more common, and 240p/288p usage declined.

More recent game systems tend to use only properly interlaced NTSC or PAL in addition to higher resolution modes, except when running games designed for older, compatible systems in their native modes. The PlayStation 2 generates 240p/288p if a PlayStation game calls for this mode, as do many Virtual Console emulated games on the Nintendo Wii. Nintendo's official software development kit documentation for the Wii refers to 240p as 'non-interlaced mode' or 'double-strike'. [5] [6]

Shortly after the launch of the Wii Virtual Console service, many users with component video cables experienced problems displaying some Virtual Console games due to certain TV models/manufacturers not supporting 240p over a component video connection. Nintendo's solution was to implement a video mode which forces the emulator to output 480i instead of 240p, [7] however many games released prior were never updated. [8]

Teleconferencing LDTV

Upcoming sources of LDTV using standard broadcasting techniques include mobile TV services powered by DVB-H, 1seg, DMB, or ATSC-M/H. However, this kind of LDTV transmission technology is based on existent LDTV teleconferencing standards that have been in place for a decade or more.


StandardClassResolutionPixelsAspect RatioNotes
MMS-Small96p128×9612,2884:3Lowest size recommended for use with 3GPP video transmitted by MMS to/from cellular phones, matching resolution of smallest generally used color cellphone screen.
QQVGA120p160×12019,2004:3Used with some webcams and early colour-screen cellular phones, commonly used in early desktop computer and online video applications. Lowest commonly used video resolution.
QCIF Webcam144p176×14425,34411:9Approximately one-sixth analogue PAL resolution (one-half horizontal, one-third vertical). Also the size recommended for "medium" quality MMS videos.
YouTube 144p144p256×14436,86416:9One hundreth of 1440p. The lowest resolution on YouTube.
NTSC square pixel240p320×24076,8004:3Comparable to "low resolution" output of many popular home computers and games consoles, including VGA "Mode X". Used in some webcams and for video recordings in early/budget digital cameras and cameraphones, and low-end smartphone screens. Original YouTube resolution. Maximum recommended size for "large" MMS videos.
SIF (525) 240p352×24084,4804:3NTSC-standard VCD / super-long-play DVD. Narrow/tall pixels.
NTSC widescreen240p426×240102,24016:9Same as current YouTube "240p" mode; screen resolution of some budget portable DVD players. Roughly one-third full NTSC resolution (half vertical, two thirds horizontal).
CIF, SIF (625)288p352×288101,3764:3PAL-standard VCD / super-long-play DVD. Wide/short pixels. Also a common resolution in early webcam / video conferencing, and in advanced featurephones and smartphones of mid-2000s (ca 2006).
PSP 272p480×272130,56030:17Notionally 16:9 with slight left/right edge cropping. Used in many portable DVD player screens and other small-format devices besides.
360p360p480×360172,8004:3Uncommon, used in some lower-mid-market smartphone screens and as an intermediate screen resolution for some 1990s videogames.
Wide 360p360p640×360230,40016:9Current base resolution in YouTube, labelled as "360p".
  • The lowest and least computationally demanding resolution supported by hardware able to run mainstream desktop operating systems;[ vague ] the lowest interruption-free resolution with low-end broadband connections.
  • Typically used as the base "SD" standard by VoD services due to subjective similarity (and similar pixel counts) to a mid-grade free-to-air broadcast picture.
  • Effectively, the resolution offered by any higher-definition 16:9 video scaled down for a standard 640×480 (VGA) computer screen. Offers 75% of the pixel count of a true anamorphic NTSC DVD image, or 89% of a letterboxed 16:9 image.
  • Historically used as an ad-hoc standard for intermediate-quality / CD-R-sized MPEG4 conversions on P2P file sharing networks.

See also

Related Research Articles

MPEG-2 Video encoding standard

MPEG-2 is a standard for "the generic coding of moving pictures and associated audio information". It describes a combination of lossy video compression and lossy audio data compression methods, which permit storage and transmission of movies using currently available storage media and transmission bandwidth. While MPEG-2 is not as efficient as newer standards such as H.264/AVC and H.265/HEVC, backwards compatibility with existing hardware and software means it is still widely used, for example in over-the-air digital television broadcasting and in the DVD-Video standard.

PAL Colour encoding system for analogue television

Phase Alternating Line (PAL) is a colour encoding system for analogue television used in broadcast television systems in most countries broadcasting at 625-line / 50 field per second (576i). It was one of three major analogue colour television standards, the others being NTSC and SECAM.

Standard-definition television Original analog television systems

Standard-definition television is a television system which uses a resolution that is not considered to be either high or enhanced definition. SDTV and high-definition television (HDTV) are the two categories of display formats for digital television (DTV) transmissions. "Standard" refers to the fact that it was the prevailing specification for broadcast television in the mid- to late-20th century.

Video Electronic moving image

Video is an electronic medium for the recording, copying, playback, broadcasting, and display of moving visual media. Video was first developed for mechanical television systems, which were quickly replaced by cathode ray tube (CRT) systems which were later replaced by flat panel displays of several types.

Video CD CD-based format meant for digital video distribution

Video CD is a home video format and the first format for distributing films on standard 120 mm (4.7 in) optical discs. The format was widely adopted in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East, superseding the VHS and Betamax systems in the regions until DVD-Video finally became affordable in the first decade of the 21st century.

Interlaced video Technique for doubling the perceived frame rate of a video display

Interlaced video is a technique for doubling the perceived frame rate of a video display without consuming extra bandwidth. The interlaced signal contains two fields of a video frame captured consecutively. This enhances motion perception to the viewer, and reduces flicker by taking advantage of the phi phenomenon.

Progressive scanning is a format of displaying, storing, or transmitting moving images in which all the lines of each frame are drawn in sequence. This is in contrast to interlaced video used in traditional analog television systems where only the odd lines, then the even lines of each frame are drawn alternately, so that only half the number of actual image frames are used to produce video. The system was originally known as "sequential scanning" when it was used in the Baird 240 line television transmissions from Alexandra Palace, United Kingdom in 1936. It was also used in Baird's experimental transmissions using 30 lines in the 1920s. Progressive scanning became universally used in computer screens beginning in the early 21st century.

White Book (CD standard) CD standard for storing still pictures and motion music

The White Book refers to a standard of compact disc that stores not only sound but also still pictures and motion video. It was released in 1993 by Sony, Philips, Matsushita, and JVC. These discs, most commonly found in Asia, are usually called "Video CDs" (VCD). In some ways, VCD can be thought of as the successor to the Laserdisc and the predecessor to DVD. Note that Video CD should not be confused with CD Video which was an earlier and entirely different format.

Enhanced-definition television, or extended-definition television (EDTV) is a Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) marketing shorthand term for certain digital television (DTV) formats and devices. Specifically, this term defines formats that deliver a picture superior to that of standard-definition television (SDTV) but not as detailed as high-definition television (HDTV).

Anamorphic widescreen is a process by which a comparatively wide widescreen image is horizontally compressed to fit into a storage medium with a narrower aspect ratio, reducing the horizontal resolution of the image while keeping its full original vertical resolution. Compatible play-back equipment can then expand the horizontal dimension to show the original widescreen image. This is typically used to allow one to store widescreen images on a medium that was originally intended for a narrower ratio, while using as much of the frame – and therefore recording as much detail – as possible.

Display resolution Number of distinct pixels in each dimension that can be displayed

The display resolution or display modes of a digital television, computer monitor or display device is the number of distinct pixels in each dimension that can be displayed. It can be an ambiguous term especially as the displayed resolution is controlled by different factors in cathode ray tube (CRT) displays, flat-panel displays and projection displays using fixed picture-element (pixel) arrays.

480p is the shorthand name for a family of video display resolutions. The p stands for pixels scan, i.e. non-interlaced. The 480 denotes a vertical resolution of 480 pixels, usually with a horizontal resolution of 640 pixels and 4:3 aspect ratio or a horizontal resolution of 854 or less pixels for an approximate 16:9 aspect ratio. Since a pixel count must be a whole number, in Wide VGA displays it is generally rounded up to 854 to ensure inclusion of the entire image. The frames are displayed progressively as opposed to interlaced. 480p was used for many early plasma televisions. Standard definition has always been a 4:3 aspect ratio with a pixel resolution of 640 × 480 at 60Hz for NTSC regions, and 720 or 768 × 576 for PAL regions (1024 wide for widescreen displays. However, standard definition defines a 15.7Khz horizontal scanrate, which means that interlacing has to be used for those resolution modes. The lowercase letter "p" in 480p stands for progressive, so the two must not be confused.

720p Video resolution

720p is a progressive HDTV signal format with 720 horizontal lines and an aspect ratio (AR) of 16:9, normally known as widescreen HDTV (1.78:1). All major HDTV broadcasting standards include a 720p format, which has a resolution of 1280×720; however, there are other formats, including HDV Playback and AVCHD for camcorders, that use 720p images with the standard HDTV resolution. The frame rate is standards-dependent, and for conventional broadcasting appears in 50 progressive frames per second in former PAL/SECAM countries, and 59.94 frames per second in former NTSC countries.

480i Standard-definition video mode

480i is the video mode used for standard-definition analog or digital television in the Caribbean, Myanmar, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Laos, Western Sahara, and most of the Americas. The 480 identifies a vertical resolution of 480 lines, and the i identifies it as an interlaced resolution. The field rate, which is 60 Hz, is sometimes included when identifying the video mode, i.e. 480i60; another notation, endorsed by both the International Telecommunication Union in BT.601 and SMPTE in SMPTE 259M, includes the frame rate, as in 480i/30. The other common standard, used in the other parts of the world, is 576i.

576i Standard-definition video mode

576i is a standard-definition video mode originally used for terrestrial television in most countries of the world where the utility frequency for electric power distribution is 50 Hz. Because of its close association with the colour encoding system, it is often referred to as simply PAL, PAL/SECAM or SECAM when compared to its 60 Hz NTSC-colour-encoded counterpart, 480i. In digital applications it is usually referred to as "576i"; in analogue contexts it is often called "625 lines", and the aspect ratio is usually 4:3 in analogue transmission and 16:9 in digital transmission.

576p is the shorthand name for a video display resolution. The p stands for progressive scan, i.e. non-interlaced, the 576 for a vertical resolution of 576 pixels, usually with a horizontal resolution of 768 or 1024, depending of the relationship aspect. The 576p quality was decided as the default quality when converting from VHS to digital. 576p is considered standard definition for PAL video. The frame rate can be given explicitly after the letter.

High-definition video is video of higher resolution and quality than standard-definition. While there is no standardized meaning for high-definition, generally any video image with considerably more than 480 vertical scan lines or 576 vertical lines (Europe) is considered high-definition. 480 scan lines is generally the minimum even though the majority of systems greatly exceed that. Images of standard resolution captured at rates faster than normal, by a high-speed camera may be considered high-definition in some contexts. Some television series shot on high-definition video are made to look as if they have been shot on film, a technique which is often known as filmizing.

1080p Video mode

1080p is a set of HDTV high-definition video modes characterized by 1,920 pixels displayed across the screen horizontally and 1,080 pixels down the screen vertically; the p stands for progressive scan, i.e. non-interlaced. The term usually assumes a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9, implying a resolution of 2.1 megapixels. It is often marketed as Full HD or FHD, to contrast 1080p with 720p resolution screens. Although 1080p is sometimes informally referred to as 2K, these terms reflect two distinct technical standards, with differences including resolution and aspect ratio.

Analog high-definition television has referred to a variety of analog video broadcast television systems with various display resolutions throughout history.

High-definition television (HD) describes a television system providing an image resolution of substantially higher resolution than the previous generation of technologies. The term has been used since 1936, but in modern times refers to the generation following standard-definition television (SDTV), often abbreviated to HDTV or HD-TV. It is the current de facto standard video format used in most broadcasts: terrestrial broadcast television, cable television, satellite television and Blu-ray Discs.


  1. Robertson, Mark. "What Is This 144p Stuff, YouTube?". Tubular Insights. ubular Insights & Tubular Labs, Inc. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  2. "Scanlines Demystified" . Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  3. "Connecting your old videogames to your new flatpanel TV set" . Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  4. 1 2 SNES Development Manual. Nintendo of America. 1993. p. 2-1-2. Retrieved 2017-08-28. The picture display on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES) has two modes. One is an interlace mode, based on the television system. The other is a non-interlace mode, in which one frame takes 1/60th of a second. In the non-interlace mode the same position is scanned every field. Each frame consists of only 262 lines, half that of the interlace mode. There appears to be no flickering compared to the interlace mode, since each point on the screen is radiated every 1/60th of a second.
  5. "N64 Functions Reference Manual - Video Interface (VI) Management". Archived from the original on 2012-03-26. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  6. "GameCube SDK - Video Interface Library (VI)" (PDF). p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-25. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  7. "Nintendo Support - Display problems while playing Virtual Console games" . Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  8. "Wii Component cable Interlace Mode". Archived from the original on 2012-03-21. Retrieved 2011-06-27.