Smartphone Display Test: Resolution vs Quality

By Sameer Mitha | Published on 21 Sep 2015
Smartphone Display Test: Resolution vs Quality
HIGHLIGHTS

We play the same video in 720p, 1080p, 1440p and 2160p on 3 smartphones to see if we can notice the difference.

Over the past year we have seen smartphone technology rocket to the sky. Apart from the fact that the smartphone will run out of battery before lunch, it can do almost anything apart from beaming you up. We are still waiting for that one Scotty. 

Breaking down display resolution!

Jokes apart, a smartphone today is more powerful than an entry level PC and that’s a lot of horsepower for a device that fits into your pocket. One aspect of these advancing smartphones that caught my attention is the display. Today you can buy a budget smartphone that boasts of a 720p display to a flagship smartphone that boasts of a 2K-resolution display. To put things into perspective, a 5.7-inch display with a 2K resolution has 518 pixels per inch. Just to give you an idea, a 50-inch 4K TV (3840x2160 pixel resolution) has about 88 pixels per inch. You also need to consider the fact that when you watch TV you are sitting far away from it where as when you are using your smartphone; you hold it closer to your face. Hence the higher PPI in a smartphone makes sense. 

Let the test begin

Keeping this fact in mind, and also the desire to amuse myself, I decided to conceal the identity of 3 smartphones (hide their brand, design and anything that would give away details of the device), and play the same content on them and ask some of Digit’s finest if they could identify the resolution of the video that was playing and of course which display looked the best. Before you ask, I am not going to tell you which 3 smartphones were used for this test, but I’m pretty sure most of you will recognise the smartphone in a heartbeat.

The 3 displays have the following specifications - 5.7-inch 2K (1440x2560) Super AMOLED display, 5.5-inch 1920x1080p IPS display and last, a 5.5-inch display with a 1280x720p resolution. To maintain uniformity in the test, I ran the Deadpool official trailer along with the Dawn of Justice trailer in 720p, 1080p, 2K and 4K on the displays.

Deadpool trailer running on the three smartphones 

For this test my subjects were Digit Senior reviewer Prasid Banerjee and Writer-Reviewer Souvik Das. We also got inputs from the big daddy editor himself, Soham Raninga. So yes, my audience wasn’t easy to fool. But did they guess the content right? I’d like to put it out there that all my test subjects (I think this is one of those rare occasions where I get to call these masterminds my subjects so I am going to exploit the opportunity) were watching the videos play out on the display very critically. Specific areas where the action got hot to the blacks and even the clouds that is there in the Dawn of Justice trailer.

Dawn of Justice trailer running on the three samrtphones

So what were the results I hear you ask? Well, here is a chart showing the resolution of the video that was playing and what the experts guessed.

Display 5.7-inch 2K (1440x2560) Super AMOLED 5.5-inch 1920x1080p IPS  5.5-inch 1280x720 IPS
Video played Dawn of Justice Dawn of Justice Dawn of Justice
Resolution Played 4K 720p 720p
Shouvik's guess 1080p 720p 720p
Prasid's guess 420p 720p 720p
Soham's Guess  720p 1080p 4k

 

Display 5.7-inch 2K (1440x2560) Super AMOLED 5.5-inch 1920x1080p IPS  5.5-inch 1280x720 IPS
Video played Deadpool Deadpool Deadpool
Resolution Played 2K 1080p 1080p
Shouvik's guess 2K 1080p 1080p
Prasid's guess 720p 1080p 1080p

There is one thing I would like to point out. The two trailers were downloaded from YouTube in all the respective resolutions. Since it’s YouTube, the videos were quite compressed, and that was evident. The Dawn of Justice trailer in particular had a lot of noise especially in the night sequences and did not look like a high-resolution video. 4K content isn’t easily available and will be an issue for some time to come. The source of my content, the resolution and all details were hidden from the subjects. All they were asked to do was guess the resolution of the video.

So yes, they were right most of the time and sometimes drastically wrong. But when asked why they thought a high-resolution video was a low-resolution video their points were quite valid. The sky looks grainy in the Dawn of Justice video and there was too much noise in it too. And in their defence they were right. But the conclusion that I have derived from this is a little different.

The sky in the Dawn of Justice trailer had too much noise

When you watch a low-resolution video on a high-resolution display, you will be able to notice a difference in quality. It’s similar to watching SD channels on an HDTV. Watching 720P content on a 1080p smartphone display may not be a bad experience, but watching a 720p video on a 2K-smartphone display is definitely noticeable. 

Findings

My conclusion is that more than the resolution, the grade and quality of the display matters. Yes, the resolution is important too. I mean the 2K-display Super AMOLED display looked stunning, really stunning. But the difference in the 720p display and the 1080p display was negligible when judging the video playback. The difference was more with the viewing angles and the reproduction of colours while watching the videos. There were times when the 720p display almost matched the 1080p display but the 1080p display won because of better viewing angles and colour reproduction. The 2K-display was in a different league all together. Just so you know, the display is one of the key areas where manufacturers compromise to maintain low price points. So next time you are purchasing a smartphone, and your primary use is multimedia consumption, I highly recommend that you get your hands on the smartphone first and watch some videos on the display before making your purchase decision.

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Sameer Mitha

Sameer Mitha lives for gaming and technology is his muse. When he isn’t busy playing with gadgets or video games he delves into the world of fantasy novels.

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