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How to Choose the Screen Size for a Video Display

The screen size of a TV or video display is an important consideration for home theaters. Screen size is measured diagonally for all video displays, with the exception of screens for front-projector systems (which are measured horizontally).

Keep in mind that 16:9 and 4:3 screen sizes can’t be directly compared diagonally. For example, a 16:9 32-inch screen is about 28 inches wide and a bit less than 16 inches high, while a 4:3 32-inch screen is 25.6 inches wide and a hair over 19 inches high. So if you’re moving from a 32-inch non-widescreen TV to an HDTV, don’t think that a 32-inch HDTV will be exactly the same size — it will be wider, but the screen height will be smaller. In general, screen height is what people perceive as the “size” of a TV. ScreenMath.com makes these comparisons in more detail.

Before you buy any television, consider the size of your room and your expected seating distance from the display. Most people think bigger is better when it comes to TV, but that’s not the case. Just as a TV can be obviously too small for a room, the opposite can be true — a TV can be visually too big for a room.

Every video display has some sort of line structure (or, more accurately, in the case of digital HDTV displays, pixel structure). The picture you see on your screen is made up of a series of individual points of light. Generally, the bigger the screen, the bigger these individual points. When you sit back a reasonable distance, your eyes can’t discern these individual items, but if you get too close, they can. Because line or pixel size depends on the size of the screen, the distance at which you can make out this structure varies by screen size.

Keep these general guidelines in mind for viewing distance and refer to the table below:

  • HDTV: Your seating distance should be about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 times the screen-size measurement. So for a typical 50-inch HDTV, you can have an optimal picture if your seating is between 6 feet, 3 inches and 10 feet, 5 inches.

    Note that you can sit closer to an HDTV than you can to a traditional TV simply because the screen has more lines and pixels (which makes them smaller and harder to see individually).

  • Non-HDTV: Your seating distance should be about 3 times the screen size.

HDTV Screen Size and Viewing Distance
HDTV Size HDTV Viewing Distance
30 inch 3 feet, 9 inches to 6 feet, 3 inches
34 inch 4 feet, 3 inches to 7 feet, 1 inch
42 inch 5 feet, 3 inches to 8 feet, 9 inches
50 inch 6 feet, 3 inches to 10 feet, 5 inches
55 inch 6 feet, 10.5 inches to 11 feet, 5.5 inches
60 inch 7 feet, 6 inches to 12 feet, 6 inches
65 inch 8 feet, 1 1/2 inches to 13 feet, 6.5 inches
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