What’s the Right Size HDTV for Me?

One of the biggest questions among people shopping for an HDTV is “how big should it be?” If you have an unlimited budget, you might be tempted to get the biggest display in the store. And you’d probably be making a mistake.

Think about when you go to the movie theater. Do you always try to sit in the first row? Probably not; the image will be uncomfortably large. And if you’re in a digital cinema that uses a digital projector instead of traditional film, the image will also look blocky.

The same point is valid at home. With any digital TV, you want to sit far enough back that you can’t see the individual dots on the screen, yet close enough so that the image fills enough of your field of view. For a rule of thumb, hold your arms at about 45-degree angles out in front of your body, so that there is a right angle between them. Now, divide that space in thirds, and move your arms forward one-third from each side, leaving one-third of the angle between them. That’s about how wide an HDTV screen should appear when you’re watching it. Sit in your normal viewing seat, and have someone mark where you’re pointing. That’s about how wide your display should be.

This is just a rough measure. If you’re getting a lower resolution display, you’ll want a smaller angle, which means a smaller screen at a given distance. If your eyesight is particular good, you also might want a smaller display so you don’t see the individual pixels or artifacts. On the other hand, if your eyesight is not as acute, the a larger screen is a better choice.

For more information on choosing the size of your next TV, see Professor Poor’s Guide to Buying HDTV.