Using official terminology to minimize understanding

I was reading a review of a laptop recently and saw the typical inscrutable label for its screen resolution (“QHD”, in this case), and finally decided I should find out what the heck that even means. So I poke around, and discover that it’s a morass of thing with conflicting names and ambiguous naming schemes. Who names these things? Why not just use the actual resolution (i.e., 1920×1080, or whatever it is)?

  • nHD: ”[one-]ninth HD“, because it’s ¼ the pixels of HD…and 1/9 the pixels of FHD. So it sorta makes sense.
  • qHD: “quarter-HD”, because it’s ½ the height and ½ the width, and therefore ¼ the pixels…of FHD
  • HD: “high definition”: 1280×720. Also sometimes “720” or “720p”. Don’t understand how this is labeled “HD”, because apparently if you’re the full amount of HD, you’re 1080p. (See nHD, qHD, FHD) Maybe we should call this “HD-ish”?
  • HD+: “high definition plus”: 1600×900. Apparently “{thing} plus” is less than “all of {thing}”.
  • FHD: “full high definition”: 1920×1080. IOW, 2.25x the pixels of HD, so it should be “double HD, right”? Also “1080”, “1080i”, and “1080p”
  • QHD: “quad high definition”, not to be confused with qHD, of course: 2560×1440. 4x the pixels of HD, which itself, remember, isn’t “fully” HD, it’s just HD-ish. I’ve, rarely, seen “1440p” for this.
  • QHD+: “quad high definition plus”: 3200×1800. 4x the pixels (i.e., double the height and width) of HD+.
  • Oh, I see the pattern, so the next one is QFHD, right? Well, maybe, but not usually. Instead, we’re going to go with:
  • 4K UHD: “four thousand [pixel] ultra high definition”, I guess? 3840×2160. If you’re going to reduce any smaller resolution to a single number, you go with the height (480i, 720p, 1080p), so now that we’re doubling FHD in each dimension, let’s focus on the width. And round up a bunch rather than use the exact number.
  • 5K: “five thousand [pixel]”, 5120×2880. Still focused on the horizontal resolution, but this time we’re going to round down. Also called UHD+ because it’s exactly double in each dimension of…QHD. And as previously established, when you double the linear dimension, the name reflects that you’ve quadrupled the area, so that’s why this is QQHD…. Let me try that again: there’s a + in the name, so we know it’s part of the HD+/QHD+ series, so it must be 6400×3600…. Ok, so how about this: when you slightly increase something (less than doubling), you add a plus at the end, so that’s why this is 4K UHD+…. OK, that’s close to consistent, if you ignore the numbers and focus on the arbitrary labels. We’ll just ignore that the other +’s are defined to be smaller than an FHD multiple, while this one is defined in terms of being bigger than an FHD multiple.
  • 8K UHD: “eight thousand [pixel] ultra high definition”, 7680×4320. And now we’re back to multiples of FHD, still focusing on the horizontal pixel count, and back to rounding up, now even more than ever.

I’m trying to decide whether using vertical resolution is, in fact, the better shorthand when you don’t want to fully specify the resolution, or if it’s just that I’m used to it, and that the reason I’m used to it is that TV was defined in terms of clearly-delinated vertical resolution but somewhat fuzzier horizontal resolutions?

In any case, there is a standards body involved here—though not for all of these: for the most part, if it includes any actual information, like a number, however obscenely rounded, it’s not a standards-approved label. Only the completely inscrutable labels are actually part of the standard. How is any of this clearer or easier for a typical consumer than just seeing a couple numbers? Most people can look at “5120×2880” and tell you it’s bigger than “3820×2160” but how many can tell you whether FHD or QHD is higher resolution? Or, for that matter, how much higher resolution “4K UHD” is than “1080p”? (In case you’ve lost track: double the vertical resolution, or 4x the pixels, but the ”4“ in ”4K“ has nothing to do with either of those ratios, and is almost a coincidence.)

Also, let’s say you are trying to compare two screens with different aspect ratios. Well, there is a whole set of labels for the other common aspect ratios:

  • QVGA
  • HVGA
  • VGA
  • WVGA
  • SVGA
  • DVGA
  • XGA
  • WXGA
  • XGA+
  • WXGA+
  • SXGA
  • SXGA+
  • WSXGA+
  • UXGA
  • WQHD
  • QXGA

These, like the HD labels, are a mix of consistent and arbitrary, of precise and vague (several of these can mean any of several resolutions, usually but not always with the same vertical dimension but different horizontal). The naming scheme is a lot closer to consistent, at least. But if I hadn’t put them in order there, could you tell me whether SVGA (super video graphics array) or XGA (extended graphics array) was larger? What about UW-UXGA or QXGA? What about QSXGA or QHD+? But I bet you can tell me whether you’d rather have a 2560×2048 or 3200×1800 monitor.

So, now you know. Either memorize the above lists, or bookmark the Wikipedia page, or maybe just ignore the opaque official labels and tell reviewers and manufacturers to stop using them and just tell you what sizes their screens are.

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