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HDTV: When is it time to Upgrade Your Display?

by April 30, 2014
When TVs were furniture!

When TVs were furniture!

We may be called "Audioholics," but we definitely watch our fair share of movies and TV. When you start caring about audio quality, concern about video quality is sure to follow. Display manufacturers are constantly trying to convince customers that they "need" a new TV. But do you? We've come up with a quick guide to help you out. Here are the things we need to take into consideration:

  • Screen dimensions - how big your display is.
  • Viewing distance - how far away you sit from your display.
  • Features - what bells and whistles do you need (ie. Smart TV, Apps, 3D, Ultra HD, etc)?

When making the decision to upgrade, it's obviously important to consider what you already own. To that end, we present the handy dandy "should I upgrade my TV" chart:

Your current display




 Screen Size vs.
Viewing Distance
 >15" under SMPTE
 5-15" under SMPTE
 Up to 5" under SMPTE
 Meets or exceeds SMPTE

Display technology



Flat Panel (LCD/LED/Plasma)

Projector (front/back)

Year of purchase

>10 years ago

9-5 years ago

2-4.9 years ago

Brand spanking new!






Best video connection



HDMI 1.x

 HDMI 2.0
 Misc Features
     Add a point for every misc.
feature you want (i.e. 3D,
Smart TV, WiFi, etc)

If you look at the table above and end up with 5 points or more, you could probably benefit from an upgrade. If you circled anything on the first column (starting with CRT), get to a store and start looking for a new display. If you have a newer 720p plasma or LCD, you're headed in the right direction, and the question of upgrading boils down to screen size vs distance and feature set.



Does your TV look like this:


Ack! Remember these?

Get thee to the Big Box store and purchase a new display post-haste! But what if your display looks like this?

samsung LED

Still probably too small. Just sayin'

It's much harder to know. What's most important in a display is making sure you get the right size. If you are wondering what is the best size for a TV for you, you can follow these quick hints the next time you are at a movie theater:

1) Find a seat where you think the image is just right (not to big, not too small).

2) Exit your row and walk toward the screen counting your steps.

3) Make a note of the number of steps when you reach the screen.

4) Move to the edge of the screen.

5) Walk from one side of the screen to the other, counting your steps (try to keep your stride the same as when you walked toward the screen).

6) Make a note of the number of steps.

This will give you the ratio of distance to size you prefer in a screen. Say it took you 20 steps to reach the screen and 10 steps to get across. You prefer a screen size that is half the distance from your seat. If you sit eight feet away from your TV, you want to buy a TV that is four feet wide. Note: this is not four feet diagonal, but four feet across the bottom of the image.

Most people buy screens that are much too small for their viewing distance. They do this for a number of reasons, cost playing a major factor. Both SMPTE and THX have screen size recommendations based on viewing distance. Pick the one that sounds right for you or your budget:

Feet from screen

SMPTE screen measurement
(16:9 diagonal) in inches

THX screen measurement
(16:9 diagonal) in inches





































Now, for all of you looking for an excuse to upgrade, feel free to use the above chart to your heart's content. We doubt many people are rocking the THX recommended 72" display when they sit only eight feet away. We're also betting, however, that if you did the movie theater exercise we suggested above, you'll find that these recommendations aren't far off.

Remember, the point of having a TV is to recreate the theater experience in your home. A big part of that is screen size relative to your sitting distance.

optoma projector

And for that, you'll need one of these.


It is very easy to get caught up in all the different features. Curved screens, Ultra HD resolution, 3D, Local Dimming, Smart TVs...it is really tempting to say, "YES! I want it ALL!" You neither need nor want many of these features. Lets take them one at a time.

Ultra HD or 4K:

Ultra HD or 4K resolution is the newest feature to hit displays. Displays with 4K resolution are the equivalent of four - 1080p displays within the same box. Sound impressive? It should. But you probably don't need it.

Manufacturers have been trying to convince you that you need 4K. But is it true? Most experts agree that 4K isn't necessary in most homes. While you may see a difference between 1080p and 4K in your home, it's likely because these brand new 4K displays also feature the best color and contrast features.

The Audioholics crew saw 4K displays at CES years ago. It was impressive. You could practically put your nose on the display and not see pixels. Now ask yourself if you have ever thought that sitting so close to a 50" display that you could touch it with your hand (much less your nose) was a good idea? If not, you don't need 4K. If you currently have a 1080p display and you can't see pixels from where you sit, you don't need 4K. If you follow the above guidelines for screen size for your sitting distance, you don't need 4K. Honestly, for all but the most ridiculously large, if you own or plan to buy a flat panel, you don't need 4K. Our recommendation is that you don't need to think about 4K until you are looking at front projection systems and, even then, only screens above 110".


By now, everyone knows what 3D is and most of us have experienced it at a local theater. Vizio has already abandoned 3D for their most recently announced TV line and we expect others to do the same very soon. If you gladly pay more for 3D when going to a movie and find it to be one of the cooler features, you might want to upgrade soon before 3D disappears forever.

There are two different types of 3D solutions - active and passive. Active solutions require shutter glasses that are powered (battery) and sync with your display. These glasses tend to be heavier and more expensive than the passive offerings. Passive solutions use polarized glasses to direct the correct image to each eye. This is the same solution used in movie theaters. The glasses are polarized, sans batteries, and are much cheaper than the active glasses. Passive 3D is generally considered better than active 3D solutions, but is harder to find and generally is seen with more expensive displays. Projectors exclusively use active solutions.


If you have a plasma, this doesn't apply to you. For those of you with an LCD (LED is a type of backlighting for LCD panels), backlighting should be of primary concern. Black levels are a key component of picture quality; if it isn't done well, you're not going to get a great picture. If you have an older LCD, or a newer, extremely thin LCD, you may want to think about upgrading to a display with local dimming. Older LCDs had problems with light leakage within dark areas. Newer, extremely thin LCDs use edge lighting, which is exactly what it sounds like. They place the lights around the edges of the display making the edges lighter and the center...not. The advantage of edge lighting is extremely thin displays.

Local dimming uses zones of LED lights that can be turned off to create extremely dark black levels. Not all local dimming arrays are created equal, of course, and you'll want to look for the highest number of dimmable "zones". As you'd expect, the greater the number of zones, the higher the cost of the display.

Smart TVs:

Smart TVs are connected to the Internet. If you don't have an Ethernet connection near your TV, you'll need to either buy a TV with a WiFi connection (more of these are coming out every day) or you'll need some sort of WiFi extender to plug into the back of your display. Every manufacturer has their own set of apps and services, but Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube are common. Some TVs will have a very limited number of included apps while others will have hundreds. Many of these apps require a separate purchase (monthly subscription).

Remember, you don't have by a new TV to get smart features. If you have a PS3, you have access to many of these services at no additional charge. Likewise, there are a ton of boxes that will stream for you costing $100 or less. Offerings from Roku, Apple, and Amazon include a remote, WiFi connection, 1080p streaming, and even games for $100. The Chromecast from Google only costs $35, but has a limited number of services compared to the others. Depending on what you plan on doing with your Smart TV, you can save some money by purchasing one of these external boxes and waiting on upgrading your TV.


We all love brand new shiny devices in our home theaters. Nothing impresses the neighbors more than a new TV. If you have an older 720 plasma, and don't sit too far away, you can add one of the streaming boxes and make your TV smart for not a lot of scratch. If you want the very pinnacle of performance, or if you want to add a feature like 3D, you'll need to upgrade. More than anything however, you need to think about screen size. If you are having problems reading text, or if your display isn't at least 720p, it is time to upgrade. Just don't buy a curved screen. Those are dumb.


About the author:
author portrait

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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