If you’re like most kids, your holiday wish list contained a few electronic items. From laptops and tablet computers to smartphones and MP3 players, electronic gadgets are all the rage these days.

If your wish included a television or anything that involves video, like a video game console or a Blu-ray Disc player, you’ll soon be learning some new technology terms. High definition? HD? Standard definition? SD? 720? 1080? What does it all mean?

All these terms relate to the concept of high-definition — now popularly known as HD — video. HD video can refer to any video system that has a higher resolution than standard-definition — SD — video.

To understand what resolution means, you have to understand the basics of how a video screen works. A video “picture,” for example, isn’t one single picture. Instead, that picture you see is made up of many lines that run from the top of the screen to the bottom.

In SD video, the number of lines in the vertical (up and down) display resolution is 480. That’s right! The picture you see on television (if it’s in SD) is actually made up of 480 different pieces — lines — that together make up the picture. So, SD video has 480 lines of resolution.

Do 480 lines seem like a lot? If so, think of it this way. It takes that many lines of video information to put together such a detailed picture that appears lifelike.

But 480 lines is standard definition. Today’s high-definition televisions have vertical display resolutions of either 720 or 1,080 lines! Such high resolution is what gives HD video its sharpness and eye-popping realism.

To watch high-definition video, you need both a high-definition source and a high-definition monitor. HD sources transmit video shot with HD cameras and include television broadcasts (antennas, cable or satellite), Blu-ray Discs, video game consoles and computer/Internet video sources.

High-definition monitors usually come in the form of a wide variety of HD televisions. However, most computer monitors are also capable of displaying high-definition video. So, if you don’t have an HDTV, you can usually still enjoy high-definition video on your computer.

If you’re in the market for an HDTV, should you definitely go for the most expensive television with the highest resolution? Not necessarily…electronics experts will tell you that all HD video looks great. Unless you buy a very large television, you probably won’t be able to tell much difference between the different HDTV resolutions.

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    • High-definition really DOES make it look like you could reach out and touch what you are watching, Mak! Thanks so much for leaving us this comment today and for letting us know you stopped by this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  1. SO COOL! I watch T.V. and play video games all the time! Often, the T.V. has problems showing some things in the right color, and I always wonder why! Thanks to you guys, I now know why! And don’t worry, I stay active!

    • It’s fun to watch television and play video games, Ninja Girl, but we’re glad you let us know you still stay active! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder, too! It’s great to learn new things we WONDER about, isn’t it? :-)

    • Hello, Shawn! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about HD and other types of televisions! We appreciate your comment! :-)

  2. Hello Wonderopolis,
    I think the video was very interesting. I play a lot of video games (don’t worry not an addict) and I usually try to get the best definition. My dad taught me all about electronics and I know a lot of stuff about TVs. I even saw him dissemble his XPS! Anyway, I can see the difference between SD and HD. I am surprised you didn’t talk about interlaced and progressive. My dad told me that progressive is better. Why isn’t there more than 1080p?

    the nerdiest tech nerd ever

    • We like that you are really interested in learning about technology, Team McNeil 1! You sure know a lot and we think it’s super cool that your dad teaches you what he knows about it, too! We think it ROCKS when families learn together! Give technology a bit more time, and we’re sure it will surpass the 1,080 line resolution mark! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is high-definition?
  • How is HD different than SD?
  • Do you need an HDTV to watch HD video?

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Try It Out

Do you live your life in SD or HD? We hope it’s HD! Make the most of every day. And make the most of today’s Wonder of the Day by exploring one or more of the following activities with a few friends or family members:

  • What’s the latest and greatest technology available today? Find out! Take a field trip to a local electronics store. Ask a store employee to show you the latest and greatest technology available for purchase. What is the largest television available? What’s the latest in high-definition technology? How much do those things cost compared to other products that have been out a while? Have fun learning about cutting-edge technology!
  • Ready to watch some high-definition video? Check out some of the videos listed below. We’ve selected some HD videos that we believe will amaze you with their sharpness and clarity. So grab the largest computer monitor you can find and make sure your video settings are set to HD. Then pop some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show!
  • Up for a challenge? We want you to see the difference between SD and HD for yourself in a work of your own creation. You’ll need a standard-definition video camera or smartphone with SD video capability, as well as a high-definition video camera or smartphone with HD video capability. You may need to borrow these items from a friend or family member. Choose a short sequence to film. It can be something very simple or a complex action scene that you create from your own imagination. Film the short scene in standard definition and then repeat it in high definition. If possible, watch your finished videos side-by-side to compare them. Write a short paragraph explaining the differences you notice. What adjectives best describe how the HD video compares to the SD video? If you can, upload your videos to the Wonderopolis SchoolTube channel, so that all your Wonder Friends can see them and compare!

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