SD vs. HD: What’s the Difference and Why Use Both?

Nov 4, 2022


Those of you looking to implement video content on your website may still wonder what the difference is between SD and HD. If the details between these two video quality terms still confuse you, you’re not entirely alone.

They stand for standard definition and high-definition . There is a major difference between the two. If you already watch TV, you plainly see a difference, but may not understand what the technical details are on video resolution.

It may seem obvious, but there are clear and distinct use cases for both SD and HD, even within the realm of the highest performing streaming devices and platforms.

Let’s take a look at what these are and how the differences factor into publishing high-quality video to your website.

What Exactly is Standard Definition?

All digital resolution images are measured in number of pixels, which are single points of color on a screen. Combining these points creates an image. How sharp the image is all goes by how many pixels there are, no matter the aspect ratio .

In standard definition, 480 pixels are used to create a digital image in any video. Otherwise known as SD, standard definition is certainly not new. It’s been a standard in video for well over 20 years now.

While 480 pixels was once exciting for picture quality two decades ago, it’s now considered the lowest form of digital imagery. Even so, it can become very useful for videos on your website for those with lower internet speeds. While SD quality is usually blurry in resolution compared to higher resolution, it’s one way to keep a video playing when slow internet makes downloading a high-definition video time-consuming.

Those of you who post videos of tutorials or general information about your company can find standard definition video very useful as a playback option. Considering many people use their phones to watch videos, SD should always be made as a playback choice if download speeds make HD streaming far too slow.

What is High-Definition?

HD stands for high-definition, and it has more pixels that allow for a clearer image. Pixel height in this case is either 720p or 1080p, with 1080p bringing the most clarity of all in HD quality. Of course, in the age of 4K (and even 8K) video, that pixel range can become much larger for ultra-high definition.

High-definition is a broadcasting industry standard now, and it’s important to offer it in content videos. Most people want to see videos in high-definition, despite it not always working well on smartphones.

Because higher bandwidth is needed to enjoy high-definition, many choose to go with 720p as an option. Keep in mind the full resolution measurement for 720p is 1080×720 and known as “HD Ready.” You’ll also see it listed as Standard HD.

HD resolution is 1920×1080 pixels. This is always listed as “Full HD”, giving you much more detail in the video than 720p provides.

Now that you know what SD and HD are, along with their pixel counts, what are some other differences between the two? And which one is best based on where your viewers are most apt to view your videos?

The Differences Between SD and HD

As you can see, the main difference between SD resolution and HD is in the clarity of the video during a viewing experience. Standard definition is always going to be slightly blurrier compared to high-definition, even if that might not matter depending on the use of the video.

If you’re just providing basic information or apps tutorials intended to be viewed on a smartphone, SD is perfectly acceptable to most people. That’s because it takes far less bandwidth to do SD streaming or video, making it easier for viewers with limited data or battery life.

In this case, SD is actually a better alternative than HD to provide a satisfactory user experience. The dip in video quality is hardly a deterrent to consuming the content.

Those of you creating videos requiring more visual detail will want to focus exclusively on HD content for better quality. This should be viewed on devices that are sure to provide guaranteed high speeds in streaming capability .

Bitrate Video Streaming as Compromise

Perhaps you can’t decide whether to use SD or HD on the videos you provide. One way to work around it is by using adaptive bitrate streaming technology.

The use of this is ubiquitous nowadays since it offers an optimized streaming experience on any device. It works by automatically offering SD or HD video on a device based on the bandwidth available at the time.

What this means is, if someone is watching your video on a smartphone with a slower connection, the video will automatically switch to the proper bitrate to ensure less buffering. Your video will play on the person’s phone more easily without interruptions.

Likewise, they can also enjoy high-resolution content instantly when adaptive bitrate technology detects someone’s watching with a device utilizing a faster connection.

Now that you understand the differences in SD vs HD, what kind of device differences are there on where SD and HD video works best?

The Best Devices for SD and HD Video Content

SD content is going to be better on smartphones, but also on tablets. While there are some exceptions with tablets, most of those devices stream video similarly to a smartphone.

SD can also work well on laptops and some desktops. Older computers obviously don’t have the power newer ones do, hence making SD a necessary video option. Overall, though, medium-sized screens are best using SD based on how the person views the video.

For HD video, TVs are usually considered first since it has a larger screen where one can enjoy more detailed visuals. Even so, many newer laptops and desktops can stream HD video without issue. It all comes down to how fast the person’s internet connection is.

Something like an iPad Pro tablet can also take on HD content from a streaming service without any loss of quality. Regardless, you always have to consider your audience and what kind of screens they’ll primarily be using to watch your videos.

Other Terms to Know About SD and HD

Some other terms exist in the realm of SD and HD video you should know about. One is the difference between 1080p and 1080i. You’ve likely seen that ‘i’ used on HD video and never sure what it meant.

This stands for interlaced video where the frame rate is doubled per second, hence helping the human eye perceive the image in better clarity. Despite the pixels being the same, any device with low scan rates can still display a clear interlaced video.

At one time, old analog TVs used interlaced signals to keep an image clear. In the world of HDTV, interlaced video is still sometimes used to help keep the image in HD without taking as much bandwidth.

In contrast to interlaced video is progressive. Have you always wondered what the p stands for after 720 or 1080? Now you know. Today, progressive video is more the standard on high-end devices for higher quality images.

Another term to know in the realm of SD is 360p. With this pixel rate, you’re getting the lowest possible resolution. Regardless, it’s still considered a standard on places like YouTube since it’s the lowest possible resolution that still looks halfway decent. For those watching live streaming videos on smartphones, 360p is another good option to use when low bandwidth is a problem.

Should You Use SD or HD On Your Videos?

It’s clear HD (high-definition) is always better in image quality. Whether you choose to use SD or HD all depends on what type of videos you’re producing. Just remember that offering both options is important to accommodate everyone watching on different devices.