Note: The table with optimal distances for each HDTV screen size is at the bottom of this post.
Knowing what is the optimal HDTV size for your room is an important step when buying a new TV. Regardless of what kind of flat-screen HDTV you intend to buy – plasma or LCD – it is a good idea to first go and measure the distance between the place you will be sitting (e.g. the couch) and the place where the HDTV will be sitting (e.g. stand, wall). Assuming that you did the measuring, you can now consult the table at the bottom of this page and see which is the recommended screen size for your viewing distance.
As you see from the table at the bottom of this page, there are two recommended measurements. One is the minimum distance, which is recommended when watching high definition 1080p content as Blu Ray movies or 1080i TV broadcasts. The other is the maximum distance, recommended if you are watching SDTV (standard definition TV) broadcasts. In between them, is the distance recommended when watching 720p broadcasts (most sports channels). There is a range between the three distances, and you have to figure out where in this range the sweet spot is for you. But how are you supposed to do that? If you plan to watch just Blu Ray movies or 1080i TV broadcasts, then the minimum distance (closer to the TV) is the best as it offers the most detail for that content. If on the other hand you plan to watch Standard Definition TV broadcasts (480i SDTV) or Enhanced Definition content (DVDs) the recommended size is close to the maximum distance (further away). If you want to watch both types of content go somewhere in between or choose which situation you prefer – better detail on HD (high-definition) sources and uglier SD (standard-definition) sources or less detail on HD sources and better looking SD sources. Keep in mind that with time, in USA and many other countries, television broadcasts will switch to digital and all programs will eventually be high-definition.
Buying a HDTV that has the right size can make the difference between a good looking TV and an amazingly impressive TV. No, it is not just about how much you pay for the HDTV and what features it has, but also about knowing what you need (getting the optimal size). Even if you buy a HDTV that has great picture quality, if it is not big enough, or you’re not close enough to see the full amount of detail, you will be missing some of the advantages of a high definition screen.
This is a very common problem: you have $X budget and the optimal screen size for you is Y inch or more. However, the price of a very high quality HDTV at this size is X+ALOM (ALOM stands for “A Lot Of Money”). Hence, you’re short of “a lot of money” if you are to buy a great looking HDTV.
The solution is not a nice one. You either allocate a bigger budget for this purchase or you settle for less size or less quality. If you can increase the budget enough, the problem is solved. However, you may not be able to do that. In this case, you have to choose between buying a HDTV having the right size but offering a relatively inferior picture quality or a smaller HDTV of very high quality. In other words, you have to choose between how much detail you will see (size+resolution) and how good the picture will look (black levels, contrast, color accuracy, etc.). The choice is entirely yours. As a matter of fact, only you can decide this, so don’t ask me what is better or what I recommend you.
After you look at the distances table below, and taking into consideration the type of content you will be watching most, you may realize that a 720p HDTV offers enough resolution for your needs. There is one important aspect to keep in mind, however: all 720p HDTVs are entry-level models and their picture quality is not as good as that of mid-end or high-end models, which all happen to be 1080p. That means, even if 720p is enough resolution for your needs, if picture quality (contrast/black levels, color accuracy, etc.) is important for you, you should consider a 1080p model.
Note that the distances for 1080i/1080p apply only to HDTV models that have 1080p native resolution. HDTV models with 720p native resolution, even if they accept 1080i/1080p input, physically display the image as 720p (that’s not 100% accurate, however I don’t want to get into details and boring theory).
|Screen Size||Content Resolution|
1080i TV broadcasts and 1080p Blu Ray Disk Movies
720p TV broadcasts – most sports channels
SDTV broadcasts and regular DVD movies
|32"||4.2 feet||6.2 feet||11.5 feet|
|40"||5.2 feet||7.8 feet||14.3 feet|
|42"||5.5 feet||8.2 feet||15 feet|
|46"||6 feet||9 feet||16.5 feet|
|50"||6.5 feet||9.8 feet||17.9 feet|
|52"||6.8 feet||10 feet||18.6 feet|
|55"||7.2 feet||10.7 feet||19.7 feet|
|58"||7.5 feet||11.3 feet||20.8 feet|
|60"||7.8 feet||11.7 feet||21.5 feet|
|63"||8.2 feet||12.3 feet||22.6 feet|
|65"||8.5 feet||12.7 feet||23.3 feet|
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