TV sizes and viewing distance
How to choose the right screen size for your room
Julie Govan is the Brand Manager at Crutchfield, and has been writing about consumer electronics since 1999. Her areas of expertise include home theater, surround sound, digital cameras, and HDTV. In her spare time, she also writes book reviews and fiction. She earned a B.A. in English from Davidson College, and went on to receive a master's degree in English literature from the University of Virginia.
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Choosing the optimum TV screen size should be based on how far you'll be sitting from it, and what you'll be watching, as well as on your own viewing preferences.
The expression "bigger is better" actually makes a pretty reasonable guideline when you're trying to decide on TV screen size. Our experience has been that in most situations — and especially when choosing a TV for your main room — you should go with the largest screen your room, viewing distance, and budget will accommodate. That's because we occasionally hear people wishing their TV's screen was bigger, but rarely hear them wishing their screen was smaller.
Viewing distance and picture quality: two parts of the screen size equation
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Sitting the right distance from your TV is also an important part of optimizing the viewing experience. If this will be your first big HDTV, you may end up re-thinking your setup and viewing distance. Old-school tube TVs typically had screens 36" or less, and you didn't want to sit too close because if you did you'd notice the screen's scan lines. But with current TV models, sitting too far away may mean you miss some of the high-def detail you paid for.
But you also want to avoid sitting too close to your TV. A good indication that you're sitting too close to a screen is if you find yourself distracted by the screen's "structure" — those rows and columns of pixels that look like tiny dots.
If you're not sure which screen size is best for your room size and viewing distance, use our chart as a guideline. It might also tip you off to how your current viewing distance lines up with industry recommendations. You'll notice that we provided a range for each screen size, rather than a hard and fast number. That's because the viewing distance you prefer will depend on your personal tastes, as well as what kind of material you'll most often watch. If you watch lots of high-quality video — like Blu-rays and high-def cable, satellite, or over-the-air programming — you can sit at the closer end of the range to see all the detail your HDTV can provide. On the other hand, if you'll still be watching lots of lower-quality sources, like analog cable, we recommend sitting at the higher end so that you'll notice less of the image's flaws.
This chart applies to HDTVs, which usually have "1080p" screen resolution. The new Ultra High Definition TVs, also called "4K" TVs, have much higher resolution screens, with the ability to show four times the detail of a 1080p screen. The pixels on Ultra HD screens are incredibly small — even standing right next to the screen it's hard to discern individual pixels. For this reason, you can sit much closer to an Ultra HD TV than to a regular HDTV — as close as 1 times the screen diagonal.
A few more tips on TV placement
Viewing angle is another factor that affects TV picture quality. No matter what display technology your TV uses — LCD, plasma, OLED — it will look its best when viewed straight-on, at a height where your eyes are level with the middle of the screen. With that in mind, you'll probably need a TV stand to support your TV and raise it to the correct viewing height.
Today's skinny, lightweight flat-panel TVs give you options: you can either go with a stand, or use a TV wall mount for on-wall placement. Wall-mounting saves considerable floor space and gives your home theater a nice, finished look. See our guide to wall-mounting your flat-panel TV for more detailed on-wall TV placement tips.
You'll want to make sure you choose a stand or wall mount that's made to accommodate your TV's weight and size — an old coffee table may not be able to stand up to the weight of really big TVs — say, 65" or larger. Also, be sure that your TV is placed properly on your stand, and that it's balanced left to right, and front to back. If you have small children, wall-mounting your TV is a good way to reduce the chances of an injury caused by a TV tipping over. Another smart safety option is a TV safety strap.
Rather than the traditional pedestal stand, many 2014 TVs are supported by two legs placed out near the edges of the screen. You'll want to be careful not to place your TV so that the legs are close enough to slip off if the TV is bumped. Since TVs tend to be heavier towards the front, you should avoid setting them too close to the front edge of the stand.
You'll also find detailed safety tips for wall-mounted TVs in our in-depth wall-mounting guide.
Room lighting and your TV's picture
Light from lamps and windows can also affect your TV's picture. Properly done, it can have a positive effect, helping to prevent eye strain and providing deeper-looking blacks. But in a lot of cases, it can have a negative impact, creating on-screen glare and making your TV's colors look faded and washed out. If your viewing room has a lot of ambient light from lamps and windows, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent it from negatively affecting your TV's picture.
Controlling your room's ambient light with window treatments and lamp dimmers can help your picture look its best at any time of day.
- If you can, take room lighting into consideration when choosing a spot for your TV. A little furniture shuffling might be worth it if it means your TV won't be directly across from West-facing French doors that create afternoon glare.
- Any windows that let in bright sunlight should have easily adjustable blinds and/or curtains capable of eliminating any reflections off the screen.
- Light from a window behind the TV makes it difficult for your eyes to adjust to the very different brightness of the TV screen. For watching during daylight hours, consider treating these windows with curtains and blinds.
- If you're concerned about glare in your room, consider an LCD TV — their bright, anti-reflective screens generally hold up the best in well-lit rooms.
- With just about any TV (except a projector), it's best to have a little bit of light shining on the wall behind it. If you watch in total darkness, the TV's range of brightness can cause eyestrain.
- Using dimmers in your home theater room, you can precisely control the amount of background light for optimum viewing comfort, plus you can achieve elegant lighting effects. There are simple, inexpensive dimmers for controlling lamps. And for the greatest convenience (and the biggest "wow" factor), look for dimmers that are remote-controllable.