Ideal Viewing Distances for High Definition TVs

Prices are dropping for large screen HDTVs. Many people who purchase a new high definition television opt for buying the largest screen that they can afford. Frequently they are dissatisfied or unimpressed with the picture quality. That’s because you can buy a large screen television that is way too large for your viewing distance. If the screen is too large or you get too close, HDTV can become quite unimpressive.

While part of the idea behind building a home theater is to reproduce the move theater experience, if you are not careful you can easily overdo it and actually produce some undesirable results. When you get too close to a high definition image, video distortions, blemishes on actors and other defects become very prominent. When viewed at an optimum viewing distance, these issues tend to visually disappear. If you have not yet purchased a high definition television, go to a showroom and try getting close to a screen and you will see what I am talking about. When you back away from the screen, you will reach a point where the distortions and undesirable details vanish.

The general rule for high definition viewing is that you should not site closer than 1.5 times the diagonal measurement of the screen. The maximum distance for best viewing quality is about 3 times the diagonal measurement. Once you get beyond the maximum limit, the visual benefits of high definition start to drop off. This means that if your HDTV has a 60 inch screen, your best viewing distance should be in the range of 7.5 feet (90 inches) to 15 feet (180 inches).

First determine exactly where your high definition TV will be located. If you intend to mount in on a wall it will likely be slightly further way than if you mount in on a stand. Next, determine the “sweet spot”, which is the position directly in front of the screen where a viewer’s head will be located. Measure the distance between the two points and use that as a guideline to determine the optimal size range for your HDTV screen.

Screen Diagonal Minimum Distance Maximum Distance
30″ 3′, 9″ 7′, 6″
42″ 5′, 3″ 10′, 6″
47″ 5′, 10″ 11′, 9″
50″ 6′, 3″ 12′, 6″
55″ 6′, 9″ 13′, 8″
60″ 7′, 6″ 15′, 0″
65″ 8′, 2″ 16′,3″

When looking at HDTVs in the retailer’s showroom, view the screen at the approximate distance found in your home theater or TV room. Use the figures listed above and move closer to and further away from the screen until you find the quality to be most pleasing. Select a television screen that works best for the optimal viewing distance in your home theater.

Comments

  1. Richard Schambach says

    What about height? Does a 52″ TV mounted above a fireplace about 6 foot high and viewed from about 10 foot work out. I am afraid the viewing angle might be hard on my neck.

  2. TE says

    Plasma screens are a little more forgiving with viewing angles, but you really should set up an LCD to view pretty much straight on, rather than at an angle. The viewing angles are getting better with LCDs, but you can start seeing colors shifts if the viewing angle is too great.

    I would think that viewing a 52 inch screen at 10 feet with the base 6 feet high would be a little like sitting in the front row of a movie theater. That is not the most comfortable configuration. :(

  3. Paul F. says

    I’m looking to get a plasma HDTV. The distance to the screen from directly in front is about 9.5 feet; it would be set on an entertainment center the top of which is about 31″ high (so the screen would be a bit higher). What would the optimum screen size be? About 52″ to 55″? Would a 60″ be too big?

  4. Doogie says

    Hi Paul

    According to the chart, any screen size from 42 inches through 65 inches would work. My preference would be for something in the 50 to 60 inches range.

    This article was written in 2007 and HDTVs have improved since then. Viewing angles and image quality have improved. Plasma screens tend to be sharper and have more contrast than LCD TVs.

    I suggest that you go to the showroom and pace out the 9.5 feet from the various screens and also simulate the extremes of the viewing angles to see which HDTV sizes work best. Look for fuzziness, distortions and artifacts on the screen.

    You cannot always judge a TV in the showroom based upon the color quality, because showroom HDTVs are typically set up to be brighter and with more contrast. That frequently looks bad in a home theater environment. Plan to adjust the picture quality when you take your HDTV home.

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