The PS3's list of video output resolutions includes, in ascending order of quality:
- Standard (NTSC) — i.e., 480i
The first, "Standard (NTSC)," is 480i. It's not available with an HDMI connection, which is the connection type I am using between my PS3 and My New Samsung LN52A650 TV, a brand new 52-inch 1080p flat-panel LCD HDTV. All five resolutions are available if you use a component video connection that carries three separate video signals (Y, Pb, Pr). If you are stuck with using either an S-video connection or an ordinary composite video connection, only 480i is available.
What These Resolutions Mean
The numbers 480, 720, and 1080 give the number of scan lines or pixel rows in each video frame — the more the better.
The "i" or "p" gives the type of scanning. The "i" suffix is for "interlaced scanning," while "p" is for "progressive scanning." In interlaced scanning, each video frame is divided into two fields, with just the odd-numbered pixel rows (rows 1, 3, 5, 7 etc.) in the first field that is sent across the connecting cable, and then just the even-numbered rows (rows 2, 4, 6, 8 etc.) in the second field. In progressive scanning, all pixel rows are sent at once, in their normal order. Progressive scanning is preferable. Interlaced scanning can cause picture flicker.
Each resolution offers a maximum number of pixels in each row. For 480i and 480p, which are standard-definition formats, it's often 720 pixels per row, but it can be 704, 640, or lower. Only when the number of pixels per 480i/480p row is 640 are the pixels square — assuming, that is, that they're destined for a screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The other 480i/480p pixels-per-line counts involve pixels that are not square on a 4:3 screen. (480i and 480p expect a 4:3 screen; stretched to fit a 16:9 screen, the pixels are never square. There would have to be fully 853 pixels per line to make them square.)
720p, 1080i, and 1080p are high-definition formats. For 720p, the pixels-per-line figure is 1,280. For 1080i and 1080p, it's 1,920. In all HD cases, the pixels are square. All HD resolutions are intended for a screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
1080p video, accordingly, might be fully specified as "1920 x 1080p" video. 1920 x 1080p video is sometimes called "Full HD." A Full HD television yields the best possible high-definition picture. I am using the expanded designation "1920 x 1080p" here in this post to show what "1080p" actually implies, but on the PS3's setup and menu screens you'll just see "1080p."
What we are talking about here are "content pixels," not "screen pixels": the number of pixels the PS3 will put in the content it sends to the TV. Actual TV screens may have a different number of pixels per row than the content from the PS3 that is being displayed on them. Some 1080p HDTVs have fewer than 1,920 pixels per row. They are not "Full HD." If they receive 1920 x 1080p content from the PS3, they will sacrifice resolution in the horizontal direction.
Frame and Field Rates
In addition to the various video resolutions, there are several possible frame rates (or, for interlaced scanning, field rates). 480i video usually has a field rate of 60 fields per second (though the rate is typically adjusted to 59.94 fields per second for broadcast purposes). 1080i also typically has 60 fields per second. (Notice that 60 fields per second is equivalent to 30 frames per second, as long as it is understood that the frames are being scanned using interlaced scanning. Again, progressive scanning does not use fields.)
720p video typically has 60 frames, not fields, per second.
1080p video is not used for broadcast purposes; only 1080i and 720p are true HDTV broadcast standards. On Blu-ray discs, 1080p video can be recorded, often with a frame rate of 24 fps — the same as motion-picture film.
Actually, I have found that on the limited number of Blu-ray discs I have had a chance to play so far, all of them being movie titles, the main movie is always recorded in 1080p/24, meaning that it uses 1920 x 1080 video, scanned progressively, at 24 frames per second. Bonus materials such as making-of documentaries and deleted footage typically use a lower resolution and/or a different frame/field rate.
What Resolution Is Actually Used by the PS3?
The answer to this question depends in part on whether the PS3 is playing a Blu-ray disc (BD), playing a DVD, or generating video in real time from a video game. Game video is the simplest to discuss. BD/DVD video adds extra wrinkles.
For video being generated in real time by a PS3 game, the PS3 will try to match the resolution and frame/field rate of the video-as-generated with a resolution and rate which it believes the TV can actually use.
The first step in this matching process comes during the initial setup of the PS3 — see My New Sony PlayStation 3, Part II (Installation and Setup). This part of the initial setup can be redone at any time by navigating to Settings —> Display Settings —> Video Output Settings from the home menu of the PS3 (see this discussion in the online PS3 User Guide).
You begin the process by designating which type of video connection you are using: HDMI (my type), component, S-Video, or composite. If you choose S-Video or composite video, you are restricted to using 480i output, period. If you choose component video, you can allow any or all of the five output resolutions listed above; you have to manually choose which ones to allow. If you choose HDMI, you can allow any and all output format(s) except 480i, and you can automatically or manually choose which ones to allow.
If you are configuring an HDMI connection automatically, the PS3 in effect asks the TV which formats it can use. It will internally put checkmarks by those the TV can use. If you are configuring HDMI video manually instead (or if you are configuring a component-video connection), then you will put check marks by the video resolutions you want the PS3 to allow as output. Your best bet is to check all those which you know your TV can use.
How do the Checkmarks Work?
Take, for example, the auto racing game Grid. It generates 720p output. My TV accepts 720p input, so my initial PS3 setup put a checkmark by 720p. When I play Grid, the Info button on my TV's remote brings up an overlay on the screen showing "1280 x 720 @ 60Hz." That means that the PS3 is using 720p video output, with 1,280 pixels per line, at 60 frames per second.
What Happens When the Program Source Doesn't Match a Checkmarked Output Format?
If I manually disable 720p video output from the PS3, Grid video has to be downconverted to the next lower resolution that is checkmarked. This is 480p, so the Info overlay on my TV screen shows "720 x 480 @ 60Hz." The PS3 output is 480p (otherwise I would see "720 x 480i @ 60Hz"). It has 720 pixels per line, and its frame rate is 60 fps.
Because of option settings I'm using on the PS3 and the TV, the picture actually looks about the same. It is not squeezed into a 4:3 box, but remains at the original widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio.
For HDMI connections, the 480p resolution cannot have its checkmark removed; the PS3 won't allow it. Otherwise, if you unchecked 720p, there would be no lower resolution to downconvert to.
What About Blu-ray Discs and DVDs?
Here's where we get into some confusing wrinkles.
First, DVDs. They contain 720 x 480i video at 60 interlaced fields per second. If you don't turn on BD/DVD "upscaling" (I'll discuss that in a minute) the PS3 will, or so I assume, output that 480i video as-is over any video connection but HDMI.
HDMI doesn't permit 480i output, so the PS3 "deinterlaces" 480i for HDMI to turn it into 480p. My TV's Info overlay shows "720 x 480 @ 60Hz."
If you have either HDMI or a composite video connection, you can turn on "BD/DVD upscaling." You do this by navigating to Settings —> Video Settings —> BD/DVD Upscaler and setting it to Normal. (Or, if it's already on, you can eliminate upscaling by turning it Off. You can also experiment with the Double Scale and Full Screen settings.)
The Normal setting causes the PS3 to upscale the 720 x 480i/60 video on the DVD to your highest checkmarked resolution (in my case, progressively scanned 1920 x 1080 @ 60Hz).
As for Blu-ray discs (BDs), the PS3 will likewise upscale all BD content to your highest checkmarked resolution, if necessary — as long as BD/DVD Upscaler is set to Normal. The output will use a 60 Hz frame (or field) rate.
If BD/DVD Upscaler is set to Off, no upscaling from BDs will occur.
But there is a third consideration, and it overrides all the others. If you navigate to Settings —> Video Settings —> BD 1080p 24 Hz Output (HDMI) and turn it On, the PS3 will detect 1080p BD video that was recorded at 24 Hz and output it directly at a resolution of 1080p 24 Hz (i.e., it will not be converted to a frame rate of 60 Hz).
This is so only for an HDMI connection; it does not work for the other types of connection. You should do it only when you know your TV can accept 1080p 24 Hz input. (If you are not sure whether your TV can handle 24 Hz 1080p input, set this option to Automatic; the PS3 will use 24 Hz output only if it determines the TV can handle it.)
If BD 1080p 24 Hz Output (HDMI) is On, it takes effect even if BD/DVD Upscaler is set to Off, and even if you do not have 1080p checkmarked in your list of available resolutions! If your TV cannot actually use 1080p 24 Hz input over HDMI, you should set this option to Automatic or Off.
But you want to use 1920 x 1080 24 Hz input whenever you can. This is because 24 fps is the frame rate of film, and whenever a movie is transferred to BD, it will be recorded at 1080p 24 Hz. If the PS3 has to convert it to 60 Hz, video quality can suffer, since 60 is not a multiple of 24. You may see unpleasant artifacts or extra judder in the picture that would never show up with direct 1080p 24 Hz output.