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A projector''s resolution is a specification most people come across when looking for a new projector. The various types and definitions of resolution can make choosing a projector based on its resolution quite confusing. It is important to understand the key definitions of resolution since they can be a major factor in the final quality of your presentation.

Knowing which projector resolution is best for you can help you to get good value for money, and more importantly, to get the right projector for your application. In this Projector Source Canada article we will examine each aspect of resolution, so you will be prepared when comparing different projectors and their resolutions. We''ll start at the beginning by explaining the definitions of native and maximum resolutions.

Native resolution and maximum resolution

Projectors are called fixed-resolution displays because they have a set number of pixels (the individual dots that make up the image) that they can use to display images. For example, an XGA projector can display a maximum of approximately 786,000 pixels. This fixed array of pixels is known as the projector''s native resolution and is determined by the type of internal LCD panels or DLP chip the projector uses. Native resolution is the actual physical resolution of the projector, and the projector cannot display more pixels than this.

Maximum resolution, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the projector''s physical display. It is actually to do with the format of the signal being sent from the computer or video source to the projector. These signals come in many different resolution formats, and each projector will be programmed to recognise several of these signals. Maximum resolution is essentially the highest resolution of signal that the projector has been programmed to process and display.

The different types of resolution: SVGA, XGA, SXGA and UXGA

You will probably have heard the terms SVGA, XGA, SXGA and UXGA mentioned when referring to a projector''s resolution. These are the main "standards" of resolution, and simply represent the various fixed (native) resolutions of a projector''s internal panel or chip, on which an incoming signal must first be mapped before it can be projected. The four terms above describe common resolutions used by computers and projectors. The standards WVGA, WSVGA, WXGA and WUXGA describe common resolutions used by Widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) home theatre projectors.

The table below compares these 8 standards:


(horizontal x vertical)

Total number of pixels



800 x 600


Popular due to attractive prices and good quality images when projecting simple graphics and presentations


1024 x 768


Good for relatively high-resolution images from videos, detailed documents and graphics. More expensive than SVGA but an equally popular resolution standard


1280 x 1024


High resolution and more expensive than XGA. SXGA products are good for command and control, engineering and applications where acute resolution of small details is necessary


1600 x 12000


Used for very high resolution workstation applications that require lots of detail or information. These are expensive projectors that support a broad range of computer equipment


854 x 480


Known as 480p resolution. Used for home theatre systems and other widescreen applications


1024 x 576


Known as 576p. The step up from 480p to 576p is generally not thought to be worth the cost.


1280 x 720


Known as 720p resolution. This is the resolution for true native HDTV.


1920 x 1200


Full High Definition Resolution. Dramatic price increase from WXGA.

SVGA and XGA are currently the most common resolutions available. SVGA, being of lower resolution (800 pixels wide x 600 pixels high), is less expensive than XGA (1024 x 768), but doesn't provide sufficient resolution to do justice to HDTV signals. Most new laptops are now of XGA resolution

Scaling: Resolution compression and expansion

Most projectors can process information from sources with higher or lower resolutions than their native resolution. To do this, when the projector receives a signal that does not match its native resolution it converts that signal into the format of its own native resolution in order to display the image properly. This is called scaling, and whenever it takes place there is always some loss of signal quality, or "fuzziness". If the projector is processing a resolution higher than its native resolution (e.g. if you have an XGA laptop and an SVGA projector), the image signal from the XGA laptop will be compressed into fewer pixels. This means that some of the laptop's pixels are shared across the same pixel that the projector displays.

With photos and video this scaling is hard to detect, but with small text the compression can cause noticeable losses in quality. This is where the definition between maximum and native resolution becomes important. Just because a projector can display a higher resolution, it doesn't mean that it will display it well.

How does resolution affect picture quality?

A higher resolution projector generally means better picture quality, especially on larger screens where higher resolution images will look sharper and less block-like. This also means that you can sit closer to the same screen without seeing the pixilation. Higher resolution projectors will also be less likely to require signal compression and its associated loss in quality. For example, HDTV signals will look better on 720p projectors than 480p projectors.

Does higher resolution always mean a better image?

The answer is no, not always. For example, a DVD has 480 available lines of video information. If you have a 480p projector, the image quality will be very good. However, if you upgrade to a 576p projector, since the projector cannot create additional picture information beyond that which it gets from the signal, it will need to up-scale the image and distribute it over 576 lines which can cause a loss in sharpness.

What resolution is best for my application?

To choose the right resolution for your projector, you need to know the resolution of the video source or computer you will use with it. The image projected will be the maximum quality if your projector resolution matches your computer's resolution exactly, since then there is no scaling to worry about. For example, if you normally use a notebook computer with XGA resolution (and many new laptops are in this format), you will want a projector with the same native XGA resolution. If you will be using the projector with several different computers, the projector should have a resolution as high as the highest computer resolution.

For DVD, as we have seen, a 480p (WVGA) projector will do the job. This resolution of projector will also produce very good images with standard definition TV since this type of signal also has 480 lines of video information. 480p will display acceptable picture quality from HDTV signals.

For true HDTV, most people agree that upgrading from 480p to 576p is not worth the money as this only produces a minor reduction in pixilation and a slightly better HDTV signal. Upgrading to a 720p (native HDTV resolution) projector is a more sensible choice to really see the results of higher resolution, and signals from sources such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD will also look much sharper.

We hope you enjoyed this article by Projector Source Canada.  For more information, or to purchase a display and projector for your business or home, visit us online at or contact us at 1-800-821-3021.

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