“Let our rigorous testing and reviews be your guidelines to A/V equipment – not marketing slogans”
Facebook Youtube Twitter instagram pinterest

What Size Screen or Television Do I Need?

by February 21, 2008
What does "big screen" mean to you?

What does "big screen" mean to you?

We get asked this question a lot and we have, in fact, addressed it during the course of various projector and flat panel reviews. It is an important topic, however, and we feel that it is truly worthy of some personal attention - especially given these times of rapidly dropping flat panel display prices. While many believe that "bigger is always better," getting the right screen size means that you can truly optimize your home theater budget and allocate your money in the best way possible to make sure you get the best visuals and sound possible. We'll take you through several ways to effectively determine the best screen size for your room, and give you some general guidelines for figuring out your own needs.

So What's the Definition of Big Screen?

That's an excellent question and we're very glad you asked. The answer may surprise you. Everyone has a different idea of what "big screen" means. To the person who is coming off of a 32-inch CRT display, a 42-inch widescreen plasma might seem downright humongous. To someone who is used to the larger rear projection sets of the 80s and 90s, big screen has a different meaning. To find out what "big screen" means to you try this simple experiment:

  • Go to a movie theater when it's not terribly crowded and be sure to arrive early. A theater without stadium seating is preferred.
  • Find your favorite seat and watch the movie
  • After the film, count the number of steps it takes to get from the end of your aisle directly to the screen (remember this number)
  • Now go down to the front and count the number of steps it takes to get from the right side of the screen to the left.
  • Divide the distance away from the screen (in steps) by the movie screen width (in steps).

Using my own local cineplex I came up with these numbers (yours will likely differ substantially): 20 steps (from the screen to my aisle) divided by 10 steps (screen width) = 2.0

This number of 2.0 is your seating distance to screen width ratio. It simply means that I like to sit 2x the screen width away from the screen. That represents my perception of a "big screen". No one can determine this for you - you should do it for yourself - you may be surprised at what you find. Now, how does this translate to your living room? Easy. Just use the same formula.

Calculating Your Desired Screen Size

Let's say you sit approximately 8 feet away from your screen and you have the same preference as me above. Dividing 8 feet by 2.0 we get 4 feet or 48 inches - the approximate width of a 50-inch diagonal display. Keep in mind that many folks will find their desired "big screen" ratio is as high as 2.5. or 3.0, meaning that you might be fine with even a 42-inch screen from that distance.

Here are some recommendations based on some commonly preferred "big screen" sizes:

Viewing DIstance Big Screen (2.5x) Bigger Screen (2x) Really Big Screen (1.5x)
6 feet or less 27-inch 32-inch 50-inch
8 feet 40-inch 50-inch 67-inch
10 feet 50-inch 65-inch 82-inch
12 feet 60-inch 74-inch 100-inch

What you can note from the above chart is that some users will be very tempted to consider front projection systems if they have a tendency to want a really large screen and sit farther away. Currently rear projection micro displays (DLP and LCoS) offer sizes up to 80-inches diagonal. Beyond that you will want to look at a projector and a means to control light in your viewing area. With the use of a retractable screen we've even seen plenty of consumers opt for a combination of both in the same room.

Why Isn't Bigger Always Better?

The reason there are even guidelines for screen sizing is due to the fact that if you put a screen that is truly too large for your viewing area you might end up seeing a little more than the filmmakers intended - such as film grain, noise and pixelation. Nobody wants to sit so close that they see the pixels on the screen - and with only 1920 x 1080 resolution (or less) the pixel sizing is fixed. This means that if you sit too close you may actually be able to see the pixels which make up the image on the screen. Keep back 1.5x the screen width almost guarantees this will never happen - especially on 1080p displays.

Personal preference is everything, which is why we first suggested establishing your concept of a "big screen" early in the process. If this chart doesn't seem to make sense in your room, then figure out whether you really want a bigger screen. I know one thing - we rarely encounter people who wish they had bought a smaller screen, so it's probably best to err on the side of going a bit larger.


About the author:
author portrait

Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

View full profile