Every week the EFG staff will be defining a gaming term that is either confusing or ill-defined. Please leave a comment with any terms you are confused by and we will try to include them in future editions!
This week we are going to define pixels because they are going to come up an awful lot over the next few months. We’ll likely be talking about them when we sing the praises of the NES Classic edition and its “Pixel Perfect mode.” And we’ll likely be talking about the sheer volume of pixels on screen when we talk about the resolution of the PlayStation Pro or the Xbox One Scorpio.
But… What are pixels exactly? Why were they called pixels in the first place?
The term Pixel has a number of different definitions depending on the context. In general though, pixels are the basic building blocks of digital images.
The word “pixel” was first published by Frederic C. Billingsley of JPL in 1965. He used the term to help describe the different picture elements of video images from space probes to the Moon and Mars. You see, these pictures and images from back then weren’t exactly the hi res images we get from Mars. They weren’t even as good as the images we received from the Rosetta probe as it crashed into a comet. He used the term Pixel (“pix” being short for “pics” and “el” being short for “element”) to help refer to the component parts of the images they received.
The volume of pixels in an image help to determine how clear the image is. More pixels also gives a greater likelihood that the captured image will be accurate compared to the subject.
More pixels means better looking images and more clear animations. Just compare an image of Super Mario running in the original Super Mario Bros. Game and compare it to the same animation in New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. The Wii U is a much more powerful machine so it can display more pixels on screen. As a result, Mario’s run animation is clearer.