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If you're spending the money to buy a big-screen TV, you don't want to get it home and find out you don't like the picture. So it's worth learning how the resolution of television screens is described so you can compare the models you see in the TV store.
The resolution of television screens is described with a number and a letter. The number tells you how many lines of visible information appear on the screen. For an ordinary analog TV, the number is 480; for a plasma or LCD TV, the number is usually 720 or 1080.
The letter is either a "p" or an "i," denoting whether the picture is "progressive" (received from top to bottom) or "interlaced" (received in two or more passes that start out blurry but resolve to a clear picture in a fraction of a second). While you can't see the interlacing on an "i" TV, serious TV experts tend to think that the "p" models are clearer to watch.
"Aha!" you say. "I want the best possible picture, so I'll get a 1080p!" Not so fast. Even if you find one -- and they're available -- no one is yet broadcasting television signals in 1080p. The best you can find on a high-definition channel is 1080i.
Buying televisions is partly a subjective, personal decision as to what will look best. Many people can't tell the difference between 720p and 1080i. For them, the extra resolution isn't worth the extra money.