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Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?

Viewing distance and ideal screen size are inextricably linked, here’s how consumers should match them for maximum effect
The size of a modern TV is dictated by the diagonal of its screen and the necessary viewing distance depends on that diagonal. Consumers must take into account both factors before making any purchase. (Image: Sony)

Yes, it’s best that consumers know the basics of the three different display technologies available in the market today in order to pick the right TV for their needs, as well as understand how their viewing habits and the lighting conditions of the room where that TV is placed will affect image quality. Right after that, though – definitely before making any purchase – consumers will have to pick a spot for their new TV (if it’s not already picked for their current TV that is), obviously taking into account where they’ll be sitting while watching it.

So, having picked where the TV will be placed, how far should the couch or bed be and how big a screen should that TV have for comfortable viewing at that distance? The funny thing about this question: the second part can be asked first and still make sense. Let’s break it all down.

No TV may be “too big” but there is such a thing as “sitting too far away

Because a couch can be moved around – while a TV’s screen obviously can’t change its diagonal after the fact – reversing the previous question is actually the best way to start: how big a TV should consumers go for? To this, the answer is simple: the biggest one their available space  and budget  allow. “I bought a TV that’s too big” no one said ever, after all, but many consumers regret not getting a bigger TV at some point down the line.

The cost will always be an issue with big televisions: such models are disproportionately more expensive than their smaller siblings in the same product lines because of higher manufacturing costs. If, moreover, one deems picture quality as important or even more important than picture size, then it’s big-money time: high-end TVs of 75 inches or larger do not come cheap.

Any TV placement of any TV size at any distance can work for casual viewing or decorative purposes, but this is not how most people use their TVs, is it? This example, for instance, movie lovers would hate. (Image: LG)

Whatever size consumers go for with their new TV, though, the matter of viewing distance is just as important. Ideally, viewers would be sitting in front of a TV in such a way that the picture (a) takes up enough of their field of view so as to feel immersive, (b) offers enough appreciable detail and (c) can work equally well with different kinds of content, such as movies (where the whole frame must be visible at once) or sports (where the viewer’s attention is usually focused on a portion of the screen most of the time).

The science behind the “ideal viewing distance” is rather complicated and the two most widely known ways of defining it — the SMPTE way and the THX way — differ somewhat. They both calculate viewing distance based on degrees of the viewer’s field of vision a TV’s screen takes up. The SMPTE way suggests that e.g. for a 55-inch TV the degrees of a viewer’s field of vision taken up by the picture should be no more than 30 (so viewing distance works out at about 8 feet), the THX way insists that, for the same 55-inch TV, those degrees should be no less than 36 (which works out at about 6 feet).

Many home theater enthusiasts believe that the SMPTE way is better suited to modern home entertainment content – which includes sports and video games – while the THX way is more in line with that company’s traditional movie theater standards: closer to the screen, more suited to film watching than to general content watching. Not everybody necessarily agrees, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Finding the ideal TV viewing distance is not hard… if one knows how

Home cinema buffs can go on and on about finding the ideal viewing distance and exact seating spot in front of a modern TV, but regular people should not bother themselves with all that. They can follow this general rule of thumb: just multiply the diagonal of the TV screen by 1.6 and convert the resulting inches to feet. So, for instance, the 55-inch TV mentioned earlier is best viewed at a distance of no more than around 7.5 feet and no less than around 6 feet, which happens to be (on average ) what SMPTE and THX suggest too.

Movie lovers would love to replicate “the cinematic experience” at home, but this is practically impossible or extremely expensive to pull off with a TV. If that’s what you’re after, just get the biggest TV you can afford and sit as close as it’s comfortable. (Image: LG)

All this is applicable to 4K TVs since all new TVs come with a 4K resolution screen (TVs sporting 1080p-resolution screens are now almost impossible to find). The matter of viewing distance also relates to the infamous 4K/8K TV debate, as resolution is directly linked to visual acuity  ( the amount of detail the human eye can resolve at a given distance)  and 8K TVs complicate things considerably.

But that is to be examined in a separate article. For the time being, the 1.6 rule is a perfectly serviceable way for most people to find how far that couch can be placed from their brand new TV. In practice, especially if the new TV will be mainly used for movie watching, many people find that moving the couch somewhat closer – so multiplying those inches by e.g. 1.5 or even 1.4 – delivers something that’s closer to that desired “cinematic experience” effect.

It’s fair to say, though, that the genuine “cinematic experience” cannot be easily offered at home using television sets anyway. One would have to buy a really, really big TV – with a screen of, say, more than 100 inches in diagonal – and sit uncomfortably close to it in order to “replicate” the feeling of looking at a movie theater screen.

There’s been a lot of talk about “the cinematic experience” and how that relates to modern TVs but their screens are not meant to simulate a movie theater screen. Not really. For a purely cinematic picture, home projectors are preferable. (Image: Samsung)

A television sporting a screen of 100 or more inches would probably seem unnaturally bright in that enormous size (especially in the dark)  and the whole setup might not feel all that “cinematic” in the way most of us love it in a movie theater. In which case, instead of spending unreasonable amounts of money trying to achieve that with a TV, wouldn’t a proper, good home cinema projector be preferable? Just a thought!


This article is included in our ten-part 2022 TV Buying Guide. Here is a list of them in full:

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which display tech to go for?
There may be only three available options but it’s still complicated. Here’s some help.

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Pick a spot and a time of day, you say?
Taking viewing habits and lighting conditions into account can help avoid an expensive mistake. Here’s how.

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?
Viewing distance and ideal screen size go hand in hand, here’s how they should be matched for maximum effect

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Stay at 4K or go 8K?
The extra millions of pixels may or may not be worth the extra money, here’s how to decide

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, sports fans
Not all TVs can display sports content in the same clear, smooth manner – here’s what makes all the difference

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, movie fans
What the experts call “a cinematic picture” is defined in specific ways, here’s the full rundown

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, gamers
All TVs can display video games just fine, but gaming TVs do modern titles justice by offering these specific features

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which Smart TV platform to choose?
Four main options and a number of differences between them, here’s what’s worth keeping in mind

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: All the extras that matter
Modern televisions feature various supplementary functions these days, here are the most helpful ones

Choose the Perfect TV 2022: So, you just got it! Now what?
A few things to do right away, a couple of things to consider doing at some point down the line

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