Video Resolution Comparison

screenresmainpic Video Resolution Comparison

The terms DAP (Digital Audio Player) and PMP (Portable Media Player) are often used randomly regardless of whether or not the player in question only plays audio or if it does other media. With today’s technology the majority of players over a certain size support video and pictures so these terms naturally get more and more merged.

The thing many people don’t realize with video capable players however is that video isn’t just video. The quality and usability the end user receives depend on two things; the screen and the video formats supported. Some players have so bad media support that they shouldn’t be allowed to advertise PMP functionality and resolution is a major player in this game. Read on for the breakdown of screen resolution on PMPs.


To show how much difference there is from one example, I’ve taken two screenshots from TV shows – one 16:9 and one 4:3 show. Below each resolution’s description are these screenshots resized to the screen resolution (click the thumbs for full size), both with the aspect ratio intact and stretched (which is either of the two screenshots depending on whether it’s a 4:3 or 16:9 resolution). It should be fairly obvious which ones are stretched, so I’ve not marked them.

128×160/160×128 (iAudio U3, F2, X5, Creative Mozaic+++)

Technically 160×128 is a 5:4 aspect ratio but it’s close enough to 4:3 to let go. The reason for that is that this is basically the worst resolution a video player can possible have in 2008, with 128×1288 players going out. Players with this resolution shouldn’t be alowev to advertise video and picture support, the resolution is simply to useless. Screen sizes are normally around 1.8-2″ for this resolution, which gives 20480 pixels. That’s about 10000 pixels per inch, which is 1/3 what’s normal. Although these players are sometimes highscreens, videos are watched widescreen so thats what the screens are based off

160128 43 thumb 130x104 Video Resolution Comparison160128 169 thumb 231x130 Video Resolution Comparison160128 169 s thumb 130x104 Video Resolution Comparison

176×220/220×176 (Sandisk Sansa e200, Sansa Fuze ++)

This is a resolution often used by SanDisk, and it’s still long away from being a decent video resolution. 176×220 gives you 38720, which with 2″ screens give us 19360 pixels per inch, 4:3 aspect ratio. Twice the number of pixels and pixel density of the 128×160 players, but still far away from the standard in that screen range.

220176 43 thumb 130x104 Video Resolution Comparison220176 169 thumb 130x73 Video Resolution Comparison220176 169 s thumb 130x104 Video Resolution Comparison

320×240 (Cowon D2, Creative Zen, Sony NWZ Video Players ++++++)

This is an extremely common resolution and also the first one that’s worth watching anything on and so this resolution should be what separates DAPs and PMPs regardless of whether or not smaller players can play media. 320×240 aka QVGA (Quarter VGA) equals 76800 pixels, with 30720 pixels per inch on a 2.5″ screen, 4:3 aspect ratio. Most screens this resolution is 2.5″ but some are lower (Sony S610 is 1.8″, Sony A810 is 2″, Clix 2 is 2.2″, Archos 405 is 3.5″ etc). While some think this resolution and screen size is also too low, people with normal vision should be able to watch an occasional movie on it. I wouldn’t recommend going too much over 2.5″ without stepping up resolution wise at it will bring down your pixel per inch count and it will be noticeable, especially on players such as the Archos 5.

320240 43 thumb 130x97 Video Resolution Comparison320240 169 thumb 130x73 Video Resolution Comparison320240 169 s thumb 130x97 Video Resolution Comparison

480×272 (Samsung P2, PSP, Zen Vision:W, iAudio A2, O2, S9++)

For a long time this was the standard for big harddrive based PMPs, which now normally use 800×480 instead. With a common screen size of 4.3″, 480×272 aka WQVGA (Wide Quarter VGA) gives you 130560 pixels at 30360 pixels per inch, 16:9 aspect ratio. This is about the same pixel per inch count as 2.5″ 320×240 screens with double the actual number of pixels. The new Cowon O2 and S9 will both use this resolution, but while the 4.3″ screen of the O2 is rather normal the 3.3″ screen of the S9 will give you a much higher pixel per inch count – 39563. The Samsung P2 has the same resolution on 3″, which means 43520 pixels per inch. The pixel per inch count is important because it will give you a much more natural looking picture with less visible pixels, but higher pixel per inch count on a set screen size means higher resolution which again means you need a higher bitrate to keep the quality up and that in term gives you higher file sizes.

For example, the Cowon O2 and Cowon A3 have the same physical screen size but the A3′s resolution is 2.5 times bigger. That means more pixels per inch, which means more detailed image. The higher resolution however requires higher bitrate to compensate and that gives you larger files. As commenter coreying pointed out, you can also turn it around and look at it from a perspective with a set resolution and variable physical screen size: The Samsung P2 vs the O2 has more pixels per inch because it’s only 3″ vs the 4.3″ of the O2 with same resolution. If you were to play the same video file on both, you’d be more picky about the quality on the O2 because the pixels are bigger and it’s easier to see if something’s off. Thus one can argue that you’d need higher bitrate also if the PPI is lower because you see the quality difference better than on a smaller screen with more piels per inch. It all depends on wheter or not the physical screen size or the resolution is the fixed value when you compare.

480272 43 thumb 130x97 Video Resolution Comparison480272 43 s thumb 130x73 Video Resolution Comparison480272 169 thumb 130x73 Video Resolution Comparison

800×480 (Archos 605, 705, 5, 7, Cowon A3, Q5+++)

This is the holy grail of screen resolutions on a PMP. 800×480 aka WVGA (Wide VGA) gives you a whopping 384000 pixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio, about 2.5 times that of 480×272. With a common screen size ranging from 4.3″ t
o 7″ this gives you anywhere from 89302 to 54857 pixels per inch. This resolution is bigger than DVD resolution and your biggest problem with this resolution will be finding material that will use the entire resolution. The new generation 5 series of Archos players including the Archos 5 will use this resolution and in terms with older Archos players this huge resolution can be put to good use with a web browser.

800480 43 thumb 130x97 Video Resolution Comparison800480 43 s thumb 130x78 Video Resolution Comparison800480 169 thumb 130x78 Video Resolution Comparison

Other Factors

There are other factors that have a say to screen quality besides resolution. The number of colors is the most common and is often given in the specs. The early cell phone screens were 4096 colors, and since then we’ve been through 65000 colors, 256000 colors and up to 16.4 million colors. This does make a difference, but might also be a marketing tool – the ability to display a lot of colors doesn’t mean it does it well. For instance, the Cowon D2 and Sony PSP both have 16.4 million colors but the D2 looks so much better it’s almost frightening.

The screen type itself also matters when looking for screen quality. More and more players use AMOLED screens, a technology where the pixels light up and you don’t need a backlight like you do with LCD. Less power consumption, more battery life – and these screens are also very bright and generally good.

Furthermore you have the distance between pixels on a screen. 320×240 doesn’t look good on a 2.5″ screen if you can see the space in between pixels, which on some low quality screens you can. Viewing angle is also a problem on some players, where the screen is unwatchable from a certain angle. The Cowon D2 is known to have a problem with this when tilting the player with the top slightly towards you. These issues aren’t something you see in specs so the best option is to test a player before buying if you’re concerned – reviews and feedback will almost always touch on such issues if there are any.

I could confuse people more and go on about interlacing and whatnot – something there’s been a lot of talk about lately with the new PSP Bright – but it would serve no purpose. Lot of less known factors help decide the end result, but it’s not something consumers can easily find out. My advice is: Look for screen resolution, then number of colors and read reviews to see real life experiences with the screens in case of issues like bad viewing angle. Last but not least, don’t ignore video formats – something we’ll come back to later.


kugel on October 30, 2008 9:03 AM

Can you tell me why I should care if I my video has 220×176 or 240×320 when watching it on a 2″ display? Does the higher resolution make the screen bigger?I don’t think so. A higher resolution doesn’t make anything better if the screen stays tiny. So, I have no idea why a Sansa Fuze screen is worse than a sony A818 screen.

KiloVision on October 30, 2008 9:20 AM

No, it doesn’t make the screen bigger. It does make the image sharper. 220×176 is 38720 pixels. 320×240 is 76800 pixels. In both cases, a 2″ screen is used. More pixels per square inch gives you a sharper, clearer image.

Noli on October 30, 2008 9:56 AM

Great article thanks – just what’s been needed to help myself and others understand what might be acceptable, if not desirable, without having to buy the players themselves.The resolution, screen size and pixels/inch are all well understood by myself but an interesting comment at the end was the one saying how the picture quality on the Cowon D2 was so much better than that of the PSP, despite a similar spec on paper. You then advise people to read up before deciding, understandably so.However, I think you guys are in a perfect position to actually give out a broad comparitive impression of the major players yourselves, as you tend to have them all at hand. Maybe you could add a simple 5 star rating for picture quality for each of the main players, regardless of the screen size or resolution i.e. based on colour, contrast, detail and overall ‘wow’ factor. I appreciate that this is subjective but simply seeing them side-by-side should put you in good stead. Cheers!

Andreas Ødegård on October 30, 2008 10:06 AM

@Noli:The reviews posted on the site of players with color screens to tend to have comments on the screen quality. Since reviews are done by both Grahm, myself and Martin it’s difficult to have a point system that’s synchronous among all. Screen technology also evolves every year and a 5/5 one year might be a 4/5 the next year, difficult to keep the info updated. Text comments might therefor be better. AMOLED is a technology that’s starting to be more used (something i will add to this article) and when that’s the standard we’ll see a whole new kind of screen technology

Aaron Brown on October 30, 2008 10:15 AM

Nice to see the Corner Gas screenshot!

JLF on October 30, 2008 2:36 PM

Best is to use native resolution of creen.

Jitu on October 30, 2008 4:48 PM

As you were saying, I believe the format support is incredibly important. I’m a die-hard Cowon D2 and DivX/XviD fan, and the two make a perfect combo. The D2 has quite a bit of space (16GB), but not enough to store poorly compressed videos. Using DivX/XviD at 300 kbps, I can store a full 2 hour movie in 400MB. With the D2′s 16 million colors and battery efficient video processor, I get 10 hours of video at pretty decent quality.

Jesper on October 31, 2008 10:07 AM

The light blue illustration at the top of this article is clearly lying. For example, the width of 320×240 should be 2/3 of the width of 480×272, but it is not.

Elysia on October 31, 2008 8:05 PM

cool to see a screen shot of chuck there. this is a very handy tool when comparing media players, I’m looking for the best player for videos and this is could help me finally deciding which one.

Rick on November 1, 2008 4:08 AM

@ JesperNah, I reckon that’s about 2 thirds.I’m in agreement with everyone else, this does clear up a lot of questions

Andreas Ødegård on November 1, 2008 8:44 AM

@Jesper: its not accurately measured because its meant as an illustration not an actual usable table – for that it would need to be full size. But nonetheless, 320 is 2/3 the length of 480 and 240 is about 8/9 og 272 so its not THAT much off.

coreying on November 2, 2008 11:10 PM

“The pixel per inch count is important because it will give you a much more natural looking picture with less visible pixels, but it will also bring up the video file size – naturally.”This comment in the article is not correct. The video resolution, fps and bitrate determines the file size – not whether the 480×272 resolution is displayed on a 2″ or 3″ screen!

Andreas Ødegård on November 3, 2008 2:42 AM

@coreying: Actually the video resolution doesn’t have anything to do with file size, only the bitrate does. FPS and resolution affect what bitrate you need to you to get a good quality image, but they don’t directly affect file size. The sentence you pointed out was badly written and I’ll change it, as what I meant is that with a higher pixel per inch count, you have a higher resolution and hence you’ll need higher bitrate to maintaint he same quality and that brings up the file size. I’m working on an article that explains bitrate and such.

coreying on November 3, 2008 5:22 AM

Yeah – I understand about bitrates, but as you said, the resolution and fps (and codec) determines the appropriate bitrate to get the desired quality etc.Even your sentence after that above could be argued against though. A higher pixel per inch count is only valid on the same size screen (ie, resolution changing and not screen size) Some would argue that if you had two FullHD (1920×1080) screens, one 42″ and one 100″, that you’d need a higher bitrate, and hence larger file size, on the 100″ screen because you will notice the detail more, even though it has the the lower pixel-per-inch count.

Andreas Ødegård on November 3, 2008 10:44 AM

@coreying: its only wrong if you read it out of context like you’re doing. That paragraph is about 480×272 on a 4.3″ screen vs on a 3″ screen. All PPI counts in the article are based off the screen sizes noted beside them. It’s true that if you play the same file on two devices with different screen size but same resolution, you’ll notice the quality more on the bigger size screen. HOWEVER, the point was that if you have the same physical screen size, and different PPI, the tradeoff you make is more detailed picture but with a higher file size due to the bitrate having to go up. Take the Cowon O2 vs the Cowon A3: both are the same size screen, o2 is 480×272, a3 is 800×480. the A3 picture will look better, but since it’s 2.5 times the resolution the bitrate needs to be higher to compensate and file size will be higher. With your example, you’d need higher bitrate on the O2 vs the 3″ samsung P2 because the screen is bigger on the O2 – which is also true. I’ll try to rewrite again to make both points valid and stated

TP on November 3, 2008 11:08 PM

Sorry, but I have to be a nitpicky ass about this. The three standard bit depths are 16 bit, 18 bit, and 24 bit – 65,536 colors, 262,144 colors, and 16,777,212 colors. That’s a difference of almost 400,000 colors on the last one from what you stated. Also, pixels per diagonal inch is an absolutely HORRIBLE way to measure dpi. For instance,1.8″ screen like on the S610 is ABOUT 1.1×1.4″ and 320×240, which is ABOUT 230 pixels per inchWhereas 320*240 = 76,800, /1.8 = ABOUT 43,000, 5 9ths of the pixels on the screen, while 230/320 is about 7 10ths of the pixels going across; a 15% differenceThis is because diagonals are determined using squares, and squares are not simple proportions to actual width and length of the screen. PPI is to be measured using pixel width and screen width; most screens are 80-250 pixels per inch – the insanely high-res small-screened s610 is 228. That’s the equivalent of 1920×1200 on an 11″ screen like on the sony vaio TZ series.Also, the image of different resolutions you made is quite offscale; the 320 box is 78 pixels wide while the 480 (should be 117) is about 140

Andreas Ødegård on November 4, 2008 2:22 AM

@TP: You’re right in both occasions, however in real life situations neither of those two facts matter. The color number is stated by the manufacturer and they use either 16 million or 16.4 million. The point is thah higher is better, not that the number is correct. As for PPI, that’s also true, however it needs to be a number that people can measure themselves. Some devices that use for instance the 480×234 resolution on 16:9 have rectangular pixels that makes it very hard to get the actual number. Also unless people know pythagoras they will need the physical player to get the height and width, and in the end it serves absolutely no purpose because as long as you use the piels/diagonal length methos for all your comparisons, “higher is better” still works, and its so much easier to calculate

coreying on November 4, 2008 5:45 PM

I believe that manufacturers quote 16 million or 16.4 million when they’re using a 18-bit screen (commonly called 6-bit panel, as in 6 bits per pixel element), but they’re using dithering techniques to similate true-colour.They do this on computer LCDs as well. Almost all

coreying on November 4, 2008 5:50 PM

above comment got cut off for some reason…They do this on comptuer LCDs as well. Almost all computer LCDs rated for less than 8ms response times are 6-bit panels, yet the manufacturers claim 16.4million colour support, even though they can only really do 262,144

shuff on January 4, 2009 7:56 AM

heck, a lot of good info if you ask me, but then again I dont claim to be a Physics Genious… so I dont understand the nit-picking… your wright-up answered most of my questions, however one I am still confused on is why my Elements 2G player only shows about half the screen when playing a movie, and normal the rest of the time. Is it the way I converted the file?Confused……

rehan on October 21, 2009 1:28 PM

Hi….i have been using this phone for a month and im very happy with it. i just want to ask that what should i do to watch a movie on my samsung star.i have a 2gb m.card and on my laptop i got a movie of 600mb which is a complete movie and 1st i tried it to convert it in 3gp which was done but when i played it in my samsung star phone, the quality was bad and the pixels were moving so i delete it….i want to ask any good way to watch the movie in great quality on my mobile….ill be very thankfull to u

oliver on October 31, 2009 4:04 PM

@Rehan: I know this isn’t a mobile phone blog,but il try to help cz i had similar problems with my nokia 5800..1st of all,don’t use 3gp,it’s really bad.. Try mp4.. But i would think ur phone can only play the mp4 Simple version.. NOT the H264.. So convert it to that.. The resolution should be the resolution of ur hp’s screen. For bitrate,I would think something over 1,000kbps..This is all assuming that ur phone supports that bitrate.. It should tho,i think.. I am far from an expert,but learned this from personal experience.. :)

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