TV sizes and viewing distance
How to choose the right screen size for your room
Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."
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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.
In a Nutshell
Sitting up close to your TV gives you a more immersive, theater-like viewing experience. The image fills up more of your field of vision, so your eyes are less likely to stray from the action.
You're sitting too close if you can make out the screen's "structure" — those rows and columns of pixels that look like tiny dots.
The expression "bigger is better" actually makes a pretty reasonable guideline when you're trying to decide on TV screen size.
Go with the largest screen your room, viewing distance, and budget will accommodate. We occasionally hear from people wishing they'd chosen a bigger TV screen, but rarely the opposite.
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Viewing distance and picture quality: two parts of the screen size equation
Some people still base their viewing distance choices on experiences with old-school tube TVs, where if you sat too close you'd be distracted by the screen's scan lines. But today's TVs don't have scan lines, and if you sit too far away you'll be missing some of the picture detail you paid for.
Of course, it is possible to sit too close to your TV. You're too close if you find yourself noticing 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 charts as a guideline. They're based on the recommendations of TV industry experts.
You'll notice that we provide 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. And rather than rearranging your room so you can sit closer, it may just be easier to get a larger TV.
4K Ultra HD TVs have much higher resolution screens than HDTVs — they can show four times the detail of a 1080p screen. Ultra HD pixels are incredibly small — even standing right next to the screen it's hard to discern individual pixels. That's why you can sit much closer to an Ultra HD TV than to a regular HDTV.
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 — LED-LCD, plasma, OLED — it will look its best when viewed straight-on, at eye level. So, whether you plan to wall-mount your TV or place it on a stand, try to position it so it's at or near the correct viewing height.
Today's skinny, lightweight TVs give you options: you can either go with a TV 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 TV for more detailed on-wall TV placement tips.
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 support the weight of really big TVs.
Also, be sure 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. Or, if you're placing your TV on a stand or other furniture, a TV safety strap is a smart add-on.
Rather than the traditional pedestal stand, many new TVs are supported by two legs placed out near the edges of the screen. Be careful not to place your TV so that the legs are close enough to slip off if the TV is bumped.
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 too much light can create on-screen glare and make 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 or reduce any negative impact on 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.
- Windows that let in bright sunlight should have blinds, shades, or curtains to keep 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 LED-LCD TV — their bright, anti-reflective screens generally hold up the best in well-lit rooms.
- Today's 4K/HDR TVs can get much brighter than models from just a couple years ago. With almost 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 intense brightness can cause eyestrain.
- Use dimmers in your home theater room to precisely control the amount of background light for optimum viewing comfort. For the greatest convenience (and the biggest "wow" factor), look for "smart lighting" dimmers that are controllable by smartphone app.