When someone asks me whether they should release video content in 720p or 1080p, I generally recommend 720p. It’s actually a matter of weighing pros and cons in the current technological environment. There are also several physical benefits that I believe make producing video in 720p a little more appealing given the current state of non-professional hardware, visual appeal, and ease of editing.
This doesn’t mean I’d recommend not filming in 1080p. Your source files should be as big and beautiful as you can get them, and many cameras out there shoot video in full HD quite well. There are some cameras, however, that have issues introduced when you push the hardware to work in 1080p. It’s important to do whatever you feel works best given your equipment and capabilities.
Below are a few reasons I believe that 720p is the sweet spot most non-commercial video producers should aim for when distributing content.
Bandwidth and Storage Restrictions
We’re still living in a time when bandwidth speeds have not universally caught up to the latest video technologies. Mobile devices, which are quickly becoming the predominant platform on which video content is consumed from the Web, don’t support that level of resolution. You may have a device that can handle 720p, but 1080p is still a bit too much pressure to put on a device that can fit in your pocket.
Even cable TV doesn’t always actually broadcast in full 1080p. You either get 1080i, 720p, or 480p, which is about what you’d expect from a DVD.
YouTube enables viewers to choose their optimal resolution for viewing, and that’s a great thing. Unfortunately, uploading videos at 1080p (without significantly damaging compression) means more time spent giving up your bandwidth to the video upload and less space on your drive for backups.
Makeup and Blemishes
At 720p, you have to be careful about things like makeup and skin blemishes. At 1080p, these things become extremely visible. It’s one of the reasons many TV makeup artists crossed over to using specially designed makeup that is much harder to see during closeups in HD.
If you’re doing video while out and about, having a camera a couple of feet away from your face means having every flaw exposed. If you render down to 720p before distribution, some of these minor blemishes are actually reduced thanks to compression introduced by scaling down the image. Some people still opt to produce video in SD for this very reason.
Storing videos in 720p is certainly much easier on your hard drive capacity than doing so in 1080p.
In general, a 720p video file should maintain a bit rate between 4000 and 8000 kbps. A 1080p file would be expected to have a nitrate of 8000-16000 kbps in order to maintain optimal image quality with minimal compression artifacts. That means that 1080p files can be twice (or more) as large as the equivalent 720p file. The difference in how these videos look really isn’t that significant.
Not every camera capable of shooting in 1080p does so very well. I’ve dealt with at least a dozen 1080p-capable camcorders that have constant issues with rolling shutter and other data issues resulting from the much larger strain 1080p video has on the sensor and integrated storage. 720p video is less stressful on a camera, so I would certainly recommend sticking to 720p if the camera you’re working with has trouble handling the larger picture.
You may also consider getting a faster SD card. Slow SD cards (class 4 or below) have problems keeping up with camcorders shooting in HD, and this may solve your problem if you find that shooting in 1080p causes the camera to stop recording or buffer periodically.
If you feel that releasing video in 1080p is an absolute must, go for it. My opinion is based on my experience dealing with current technologies and dealings with amateur videographers working on a budget.
Professional videographers should definitely record in full HD whenever possible. More advanced resolutions including 4k, 8k, and beyond are recommended for big-budget productions.
This advice pertains mostly to the home user and prosumer on a budget. It’s important that whatever you produce meets your needs and capabilities. There’s no reason to rush into 1080p video production if you don’t have the audience or budget to make the extra time and effort worthwhile.
Camcorder by Petr Kratochvil