Searching Far and Wide: How to Choose the Best Viewing Distance and Screen Size

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Searching Far and Wide: How to Choose the Best Viewing Distance and Screen Size

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Viewing-distance-small.jpgThere's never been a better time to buy a large-screen flat-panel TV. Manufacturers are introducing an increasing number of HDTVs (especially LED/LCD models) at screen sizes above 60 inches, at increasingly lower price points. You can get an 80-inch LCD TV for under $3,500; the question is, should you? When trying to decide just how big a TV to buy, you should consider a number of factors, not the least of which is how the TV will look in your room. That 80-inch panel may only be a few inches deep, but it's still an enormous presence, a centerpiece that won't exactly disappear into the surrounding décor. Perhaps that isn't a concern for you, or perhaps the eye-catching nature of the big screen is precisely what intrigues you. Beyond the issue of aesthetics, the question of what screen size best "fits" a certain room has a lot to do with viewing distance, or the distance between the screen and the primary seating area. Screen size and viewing distance are intricately linked, so let's discuss some principles that can help you figure out the ideal combination for you. Two important factors come into play: your field-of-view and the TV's resolution.

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Field-of-view (aka field-of-vision or visual field) refers to the entire area that a person can see when his or her eyes are in a fixed position. The degree to which the TV screen fills your field-of-view will dictate how immersive the viewing experience is, and the amount of immersion you seek will dictate how close you want to sit. For everyday TV watching, most people are more comfortable sitting a bit farther away from their display; however, for a more immersive experience with movies, you may want the TV to take up more of your field-of-view (consider how close you like to sit to the screen at a movie theater). THX currently recommends a field-of-view of 40 degrees or less for a 16:9 HDTV and has developed a formula for determining the ideal viewing distance from seat to screen: Screen Diagonal (inches) / 0.84 = Recommended Viewing Distance (inches). By this formula, a 55-inch-diagonal screen has an ideal viewing distance of 65 inches, or 5.4 feet. For a 65-inch screen, the distance increases to 77 inches, or 6.4 feet. For an 80-inch screen, it's 95 inches, or 7.9 feet. You can do the math in reverse if you're trying to select a screen size for a predetermined viewing distance: Viewing Distance x 0.84 = Screen Size. If your couch is located seven feet (84 inches) from your desired TV location, then the THX-recommended screen size is about 70 inches (84 inches x 0.84 = 70.56). As you can tell from these numbers, most of us probably sit farther away from our TVs than the THX-recommended location for optimum field-of-view, and that's okay. (To quote Dr. Peter Venkman, it's more of a guideline than a rule.) The THX formula also applies to front-projection systems and dedicated home theater rooms, where more emphasis is placed on creating an immersive cinematic experience. Again, that level of immersion may not be as high a priority for you in everyday TV watching.

The Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommends a lower field-of-view of 30 degrees, which increases the viewing distance for a given screen size. The SMPTE formula looks like this: Screen Diagonal (inches) / 0.6 = Viewing Distance (inches). For a 65-inch screen, the SMPTE-recommended distance would be 108 inches, or nine feet. Video guru Joe Kane, creator of Digital Video Essentials, has recommended a viewing distance of 1x to 3x the picture height for HD content. CNET also offers a recommendation, suggesting that your viewing distance be no closer than 1.5x the screen's diagonal measurement (in inches) and no farther than 2x the screen's diagonal measurement. In other words, for a 65-inch screen, the suggested viewing distance would be between 97.5 and 130 inches, or 8.1 and 10.8 feet.

Continue on to page 2 to read about your TV's resolution and Ultra HD . . .

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