What’s the difference between WQHD, QHD, 2K, 4K and UHD? Smartphone display resolutions explained
There are numerous smart devices on the market, all of which have different sized displays, screen resolutions and crazy numbers of acronyms attached. It’s not easy to know what they all mean – is FHD better than WQHD?
The most important thing to note is the more pixels on the screen, the higher the definition of images and videos will be and the better things should look. But when frequently-used display resolutions are referenced with complicated names such as qHD, WQHD it’s difficult to know what each of them means? And is there a difference between qHD and QHD? Help!
We’ve laid out what these complex-sounding screen terminologies mean in the simplest terms so that the next time you buy a device, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. First off, let’s start with the basics.
HD and Full HD
Never has a technical specification been overused and misused as much as High Definition or HD. The term has become synonymous with anything that raises the detail or quality over-and-above something that came before. When we’re talking about display resolutions though, the term HD is based on the original resolutions of HD TV. And yes, that’s “resolutions” – there’s more than one of them.
When HDTV first came along there were a handful of broadcast resolutions and display resolutions used. The most basic was 1,280 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall, shortened to 720p. The lower-case p refers to “progressive scan” as opposed to say 1080i, which is ‘interlaced’ but we won’t get bogged with those here. Many budget phones use this resolution, but it’s not common on larger displays.
These days when we say HD we’re talking about what gets called ‘Full HD’, a resolution which measures 1,920×1,080 pixels, often called 1080p. This display resolution is common on Smart TVs and many modern smartphones, PCs, laptops and monitors. Both HD resolutions here use a 16:9 aspect ratio (so there’s 16 pixels horizontally for each 9 vertically), which most people think of as widescreen. However, on a phone 1,280×720 becomes 720×1,280 when it’s held the normal way, in portrait mode.
The other thing to remember is that no matter the screen size of say a Full HD display, whether it’s a 4in smartphone or a 65in TV, the number of pixels remains the same but just change in size and density on screen. For instance, a Full HD smartphone has far more detail (sharpness), usually described as pixels-per-inch (ppi) than a Full HD monitor because the smaller screen is a higher density but has the same number of pixels, so a sharper picture.
In the smartphone revolution of the last five or so years, manufacturers have been desperate to put higher resolution screens into phones. It’s sometimes argued that resolutions above that of Full HD are wasted on such comparatively small panels as even people with perfect vision find it hard to spot any difference. However, this ignores two factors: first, you tend to hold a smartphone much closer to you than you do the screen on a laptop or even tablet, which means your eyes are capable of discerning greater detail. Second, you may be using your phone with a VR headset in the future, at which point you want as many pixels as possible right in front of your eyes.
As a result Quad High Definition (QHD, or Quad-HD) screens have become more common in high-quality handsets, like the new Honor 8 Pro. Quad-HD is four times the definition of standard 720p HD, meaning you can fit the same number of pixels as four HD displays into a QHD display of the same size, namely 2,560×1,440 pixels, or 1440p. As with all HD-derived resolutions this one has a wide 16:9 aspect ratio, so QHD can also be referred to as WQHD (Wide Quad High Definition), it’s the same thing, but some manufacturers put a W in front of the QHD to show that it has the wide aspect ratio.
To confuse things, you’ll sometimes see Quad-HD or WQHD referred to as 2K, with the idea that it’s half the 4K HD resolution found on high end TV sets (more about that later). The 2K name is derived from the larger of the pixel measurements being over 2,000 pixels, which means any display with resolution greater than 2,048×1,080 can be described as 2K.
And to confuse things even more, you’ll occasionally see references to “qHD” – note the lower case “q, because qHD is not to be confused with QHD. Despite having a very similar name, qHD stands for Quarter High Definition and is a display resolution of 960×540 pixels – one quarter of 1080p Full HD.
This is used much less frequently these days. It was often found on high-end smartphones and handheld consoles — such as the Playstation Vita — around 2011, and if used today is usually found on much smaller device displays for a relatively high pixel density when anything higher would be wasteful.
4K and UHD
4K and Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolutions can be a cause for confusion because both terms are often used interchangeably, when actually they are not the same. So we’ll need to do a little explaining of these, too.
True 4K displays are used in professional production and digital cinemas and feature 4,096×2,160 pixels. UHD is different because it is a consumer display and broadcast standard with a resolution four times that of a Full 1080p HD resolution: 3,840×2,160 pixels. The difference comes down slightly different aspect ratios between digital cinema and home displays. UHD is another 16:9 aspect ratio standard, which means screens are backward compatible with Full HD content.
Both 4K and UHD definitions could be shortened to 2,160p, to match HD standards that have preceded them, but this would make things even more confusing because while the pixel difference is relatively marginal, they are still different. Some brands prefer to stick to just UHD moniker when marketing their latest TV to avoid confusion, but for the ease of marketing it has meant that the two terms continue to be used interchangeably.
So which should you get on a phone?
At the moment, there’s no great reason to go for a 4K or UHD screen on a phone. Because both of them use more power – more pixels lit up on screen equals more power drained from your battery – you’re either going to end up with a fat phone or one which doesn’t make it all the way through a day.
That might change in the future, but for now a better option is to get a phone with a high-quality Quad-HD screen like the Honor 8 Pro – your eyes, and your phone battery, will thank you for it.