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Apple TV Q&A - Updated April 12, 2012

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What is the difference between SDTV, EDTV, and HDTV? What is the difference between 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p?

If you have not been following the changes in television technology in the last few years, the onslaught of acronyms and terms can be daunting.

The "TV" portion of SDTV, EDTV, and HDTV is what you would expect -- television. SD stands for "Standard Definition", ED stands for "Enhanced Definition", and HD stands for "High Definition".

Before tackling the differences between 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p -- which in basic terms refer to the width of the image -- it is worthwhile to know that the "i" suffix stands for "interlaced" and the "p" suffix stands for "progressive".

Interlaced means that a single frame of television is presented in two parts -- first the television "loads" every other line of the picture (2, 4, 6, and so on), and then it loads the remaining lines (1, 3, 5, etc). Progressive means that all lines of the picture are loaded simultaneously, which can make a substantial difference in picture quality, particularly with fast moving images -- sports, action movies, and so forth.

SDTV -- which basically is the same as analog television, but transmitted digitally so that there is no signal loss regardless of distance -- is offered in 480i, EDTV is offered in 480p, and HDTV is offered in 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. There are differences in aspect ratios (4:3 or 16:9) -- the ratio between the width and height of the display -- as well.

Comparison Chart

The differences between standards are summarized below:

Width/Scan 480i 480p 480p 720p 1080i 1080p
Resolution 640x480 640x480 720x480 1280x720 1920x1080 1920x1080
Ratio 4:3 4:3 16:9 16:9 16:9 16:9

For more details -- in addition to history and advantages and disadvantages of each standard -- please refer to the excellent Projector Central website.

Both the original Apple TV and black 2nd Gen Apple TV support 720p as its maximum standard, whereas the 3rd Gen Apple TV, also black, supports 1080p.

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