Easy Trick to Buying the Right Size TV

For most people, buying a TV is something that happens once a decade. They only buy a TV when one breaks or when they need one in another room. But for their main TV, it is a major expense so, when they get one, they tend to stick with it. This is why buying the right size TV is so important. Unfortunately, very few people put the thought and care into their purchase.

Author’s Note: We are assuming that you are looking to recreate the cinematic experience from the theaters. There are lots of reasons to want to do this. You want that impressive experience of a large screen. You don’t want to squint at a small screen too far away. Heck, maybe you want to impress your friends with your ginormous screen. It doesn’t matter your reasons, we’ll help you get there.

The Store is the LAST Place You Go

Visit any store with a wall of displays for sale and despair as you witness many a consumer with their hands on their chins trying to decide which TV will look best in their living room. How on earth can you tell? You are standing 20+ feet away and have no frame of reference! The only way to ensure that you are buying the right size TV is to do your research beforehand.

Organizations like THX and SMPTE have recommendations for screen sizes based on how far away you are seated from the screen. These are usually expressed in FOV degrees. Your Field of View is the amount of your vision that is filled with the screen when you don’t move your eye. SMPTE suggests 30 degrees maximum, THX suggests at least 26 with a maximum of 36 degrees. You can search online and find many other recommendations. The FOV is expressed horizontally as the screens are always wider than tall. If the FOV works for you horizontally, it should work vertically as well.

Buying the Right Size TV for YOU

The easiest way to know the right screen size, is to do an easy experiment. Go to a movie theater (this works best if the movie isn’t very popular so you can move around during the movie). After the movie starts, find the PERFECT seat for you. We usually suggest the seat where you can comfortably see everything that is on the screen without moving your eye.

Now, look up. Usually the movie theater will have square acoustic tiles on the ceiling. Count the number of tiles between you and the screen. Then count the number from the left to the right of the image. If your theater doesn’t have square tiles, make a mental note where the image (not the whole screen) starts and tops. After the movie, count the number of normal steps it takes you to get to the front of the theater. Then count the number of steps to go from left to right between your landmarks for the image.

No matter how you do it, you should end up with a ratio.

Time To Do Math

To keep the math easy, we are going to assume you came up with a 2:1 ratio (you sat 50 feet from a screen that has a 25 foot wide image – 50/25= 2:1 ratio). So, you like to sit 2x’s from the horizontal measurement of the display. This, of course, is not the same as the diagonal measurement, the one that is usually listed on the display. We now need to know how far you plan on sitting from your TV at home. Let’s pretend it is 8 feet (96″).

2:1 ratio = 96/2 = 48″ horizontal image dimension

So you’ll need a screen that is four feet wide. You’ll need to find a calculator (like this one, or you can just do the math yourself). Just make sure you are putting your 48″ dimension into the width measurement and that you’ve put in the right aspect ratio (it defaults to 16:9 which is the best screen size and matches most direct-view TVs). If you do, you’ll get a 55″ diagonal screen, something that is not all that hard to find.

Let’s do it again. Let’s pretend you got a 1.2:1 ratio (you like to sit just a little further away than the bottom measurement of the screen. Again, you are sitting 8 feet away. So, 96″/1.2=80″. Using a calculator, we get about a 92″ diagonal screen measurement. Time to buy a projector!

There are NO Rules to Buying the Right Size TV

We don’t like to make hard and fast rules around here. There are a lot of reasons why the SMPTE and THX recommendations (plus all those floating around on the forums) won’t work for you. Personal preference and visual acuity are just a couple. We’ve had people in our theaters with very poor eyesight that were only able to see our 100″ screen by standing directly next to it. It was eye-opening for all of us! They were actually able to see the screen for the first time and we were shocked that anyone would actually want to stand that close.

The reality is that buying the right size tv is a very personal experience. Only YOU can know what screen size you prefer. This assumes that you are trying to get that cinematic experience in the house. Some people might not be looking for that. They just want something to play the news in the background as they eat diner. And that is okay as well. Just don’t complain to us when you can’t read the ticker at the bottom of the screen because your tv is too small.

1 Comment on Easy Trick to Buying the Right Size TV

  1. I did the math in my theater room… It’s ~52°…I’m not ashamed, but you will get sick when playing certain first-person shooter games (or watching Jason Bourne movies).

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