Projector Resolution

One of the most common questions we get asked is whether it is worth spending more money on a higher resolution projector, and it's a good question, as it can affect the price you pay for your projector by hundreds of pounds.

As you'd expect, the answer is slightly technical, but hopefully this explanation will help turn it into English.

What is SVGA, XGA, WXGA, 1080p resolution?

Resolution is the number of 'pixels' that the projector is capable of displaying. Pixels are the individual dots that make up the image on your computer.

XGA and WXGA are terms that describe common resolutions used by computers, laptops and business projectors. The vast majority of the latest laptops now use 1080p resolution which provides far more detail to displayed image.

720p and 1080p resolution are terms that describe common resolutions used by High Definition sources and home cinema projectors.

The table below shows you the number of pixels that are displayed in each common resolution.

Video (4:3) Resolutions
Resolution  Pixels Horizontaly Pixels Vertically Total Pixels 
SVGA 800 600 480,000
XGA 1024 768 786,000
SXGA+ 1400 1050 1,470,000
UXGA 1600 1200 1,920,000


Widescreen (16:10) Resolutions
Resolution  Pixels Horizontaly Pixels Vertically Total Pixels 
WXGA  1280 800  1,024,000 
WXGA+  1440 900  1,296,000 
WUXGA 1920  1200   2,304,000


Widescreen (16:9) Resolutions
Resolution  Pixels Horizontaly Pixels Vertically Total Pixels 
720p  1280 720   921,600
1080p  1920 1080  2,073,600 
Ultra HD 4K  3840 2160  8,294,400 
Native 4K DCI  4096 2160  8,847,360 


How does this apply to projectors?

Every projector has a 'native' resolution (sometimes called 'true resolution'). That's the maximum number of pixels it can actually project individually. So an SVGA resolution projector can only display 480,000 pixels at a time where as a UXGA resolution projector can display 1,920,000 pixels which is 4 times the amount of detail.

So does the resolution just affect how sharp my image is?

No. It also affects the compatibility of your projector with your computer. If your computer is sending a signal to the projector that is XGA, and your projector has SVGA resolution, this causes a bit of a problem. Most projectors have compression technology, so you'll still see an image, but there are serious downsides with this (see the section on compression below for details).

You should also consider the longer-term investment you are making in a projector. Most computers sold today run in XGA or WXGA resolution as standard, SVGA is used less commonly. If you start using computers that run using XGA, WXGA or 1080p resolution as standard, in the future, you may find you are very limited with an SVGA projector with regards to the projected image end result..

How do I find out what resolution my computer is using?

If you are considering using a projector with the computer you're using now, then you should see the resolution you're currently using at the beginning of this article

If you are using another PC/notebook, go to Control Panel and select 'Display'. Then, click on the last tab, called 'Settings'. In the bottom right corner of this box is a setting called 'Screen Area'.If this reads '800 x 600' you are running in SVGA mode. If it reads '1024 x 768' you are running in XGA mode.If it reads '1280 x 800' you are running in WXGA mode, SXGA+ if it reads "1400 x 1050" and 1080p if it reads "1920 x 1080".

(Mac users: On an Apple Macintosh, go to the 'Monitors' section of your Control Settings. Depending on what type of Mac you are using, you will find a similar setting to that described above.)

Can't I just change my resolution setting and buy an SVGA projector?

Yes you can, but the payoff is that you will lose sharpness and will have the inconvenience of having to make sure your computer is always in SVGA mode for presentations.

What is 'compression'?

Most projectors will accept a resolution higher than their native resolution, but will 'compress' the computer's image into fewer pixels. The result is that some of the computer's pixels are 'shared' across the same pixel that the projector displays.This is less important with photos and video, because you don't notice it so much, but with text it's a very different story – especially small text, as illustrated by the picture below.

This picture simulates how an SVGA projector displays text in an XGA image using two different kinds of compression. The second example is more common in most projectors. Some manufacturers have better compression technology (such as NEC) that displays text more like the top image. (NB: This text has been enlarged to illustrate this point).

Still got questions?

No problem. Just call or email us and ask us any questions you have about resolution, or any other technical aspect of projectors. We're here to help and advise you if and when you need us.