Maybe it’s due to my job, maybe it’s fate, or maybe I’m just being punished for something my karma did in a last life—or however that works—but when my friends are in the market for a new TV, I’m always the first one they call. And the conversation invariably plays out the same way every time: “I just want to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth.” OK. “I want the best TV I can afford.” I love to hear it. “I don’t need anything as monstrous as yours, though!” Insert the sound of a phonograph needle being dragged quickly across vinyl right here and you’ll get the gist of how this scene will play when they film my life story.
My 56-in. Samsung DLP TV, I explain, falls right in the middle of THX’s acceptable range for my room size and eight-foot seating distance. In fact, it could actually stand to be a teensy bit bigger or I could benefit from sitting just a smidge closer. “I don’t care,” I hear time and time again. “I don’t like it that big….” Beat, one, two three. “I definitely want 1080p, though.” At this point, I’m thinking that cheesy, deflated “wah-wah-waahhh” musical sound effect of old would sum up the mood perfectly. Close-up on my bewildered face, and… cut. That’s a wrap.
All kidding aside, I seem to spend a lot of time explaining to my TV-shopping friends that they’re using two very contradictory criteria to look for their dream TV. Granted, no one should be forced to live with a screen they find overwhelming, but all the extra pixels in the world aren’t going to make a difference if the flat panel on the wall across the room looks like a postage stamp stuck to a manila envelope.
Both SMPTE (the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, developers of those wonderful color bars we all know and love) and THX (developers of deliciously loud logos, among other things) have developed theatrical standards for screen size that work just as well for home theater. THX standards require the back row of seats to have a 26-degree or greater viewing angle, with a 36-degree viewing angle recommended for the optimal movie-watching experience. SMPTE nearly splits the difference, with a recommended minimum viewing angle of 30 degrees.
Put away the slide rule—we at Electronic House are here to make your life easier; not force you to do algebra. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to calculating optimal screen size for your room when purchasing a widescreen TV:
- Measure the distance from your seat to the empty spot you hope to fill with a new TV.
- If you measured in feet, multiply by 12. If you measured in inches, bravo! You’re one step ahead of me.
- Take 55% of that number and you have THX’s minimum recommended screen size in diagonal inches. Take 60% for SMPTE’s minimum recommended screen size, and 75% for THX’s recommended ideal. (Keep in mind, these numbers are a rough approximation of the SMPTE and THX guidelines, but given that TV’s only come in a finite number of discrete sizes, they’re better than close enough.)
For example, let’s assume you’ll be sitting 8 feet from your screen, like me. That’s 96 inches. So according to THX, you need a 52.8-inch set (96 x 0.55). You could probably cheat and get a 50-inch if you intend to watch lots of movies that keep you on the edge of your seat. To meet SMPTE specs, you would need 57.6 inches worth of diagonal screen real estate (96 x 0.60), so a 56- or 60-inch should fit the bill. And for the optimum movie-viewing experience, THX would suggest a 72-incher (96 x 0.75).
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