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How to Calculate the Optimal TV Screen Size Based on Resolution and Distance

Like most people, you’ve probably asked yourself the question, what size TV do I need?

While most people generally want to go as big as possible, bigger isn’t always actually better, assuming you care about picture quality. A bigger TV can actually detract from your home viewing experience.

Moreover, shelling out extra cash for a bigger TV or for 4K resolution can be a huge waste of money, depending on the size of your room and how far you’ll be sitting from the TV screen.

In short, if you sit too close to a large TV with a lower resolution, you risk seeing the screen’s individual pixels, which can ruin the movie-watching experience. Similarly, if you invest more money in a smaller 4K TV and sit too far away, you won’t be able to distinguish the extra pixels compared to the more affordable 1080p resolution.

The key factor in this balance between TV screen size, resolution, and viewing distance is called the angular resolution [1], the ability of your eye to distinguish small details in an object.

The angular resolution varies between individuals based on each person’s unique eyesight, but the same principle applies to everyone. At some point, everyone loses the ability to distinguish fine details once they’re a certain distance from the screen, and everyone can see individual pixels if they get too close.

So, don’t make the mistake of buying a new TV without considering what size you should get. Keep reading to see how you can calculate how big of a TV you need for an optimal viewing experience.

Calculate How Large of a TV You Need

Fortunately, you don’t need to do any complex formulas to determine how big your TV should be.

Rather than force you to perform the calculations yourself, the good people over at Rtings.com [2] have already crunched the numbers and put together a simple TV Size to Distance Calculator [3].

TV Size to Distance Calculator [4]

Rtings.com

Simply use the slider to set your viewing distance and select your resolution. The calculator will then present the optimal TV screen size for the given variables.

This calculator couldn’t be easier to use, so there’s no excuse not to take the time to determine what size TV you need before making a purchase. By using this calculator as a guide, you can optimize your home theater experience

Viewing Distance Chart

Based on the aforementioned variability of human eyesight, however, you may be more interested in using the chart from which the calculator’s answers are derived.

Unlike the calculator, the chart doesn’t offer an absolute answer to the perfect TV size, but rather presents a range at which a given size and resolution becomes “worth it.”

tv size distance chart [5]

Rtings.com

To use the chart, pick your anticipated viewing distance from the y-axis and then match it to a resolution and size on the x-axis. For example, if I wanted a UHD 4K TV but I sit 10-feet from the screen, I’d need to buy at least a 75-inch screen to be able to see the difference between 4K and 1080p.

On the other hand, if I wanted to save money and pick up a discounted 1080p TV, and I sit 6-feet from the screen, I shouldn’t buy anything larger than 45-inches if I want to ensure that I can’t see the set’s individual pixels.

Before you spend hundreds of extra dollars on a 4K TV, you might want to think about downgrading to 1080p instead. In some cases, the extra resolution just isn’t worth it, no matter what the package might say.

Find What is Comfortable for You

Ultimately, while all this math can help you determine the optimal TV size, resolution, and viewing distance, the most important factor is comfort.

ht guys home theater [6]

In general, most people prefer to sit pretty far away from their TV. At a distance of around 10 feet, the resolution becomes less of a factor. At this distance, it’s probably worth experimenting with larger TVs and the placement of your TV before upgrading your resolution.

 

Reverse the Numbers

Most people interested in this type of information are already working with a fixed room and are looking for the best TV to fit the space. If you’re working from scratch, however, such as planning a new home theater room, you can also use the calculator or chart to determine the optimal viewing distance for a given screen size.

For example, if you’re dead set on getting a 65-inch 4K TV [7], you’ll want to sit about 6-feet from the screen (right in the middle of the 4K resolution range) for the best balance between having that big screen experience and not being able to see individual pixels. If you decide to stick with 1080p resolution [8], you’d need to sit about 8.5-feet away at the same 65-inch screen size.

This is a great way to optimize your viewing experience without sacrificing your comfort. After all, you don’t want to have to sit two feet away from your TV just to take in the glory of your 25″ 4K TV.

Consider Your Budget

Lastly, you need to take your budget into account when using the above calculator to determine the best TV size and resolution for you.

TV Prices in Relation to Size

Rtings.com

As you can see from the chart, the prices of TVs increase exponentially as the size increases. The price jump from 40″ to 70″, for example, is thousands of dollars.

While you might be set on getting that new 4K TV, it’s important to consider how big your TV would need to be for the resolution to be worth it. If you would need a TV larger than about 50″, keep in mind that you’ll likely have to pay an extra few thousand dollars to get it.

Conclusion

As you can see, TV size and resolution aren’t as straightforward as you probably thought. On the surface, it might seem like bigger is better, but that’s not always the case.

The TV size and distance calculator and chart are great tools that can not only help you find the optimal size for the best viewing experience, but can also help you avoid wasting money on pixels you may not be able to see.

There are reasons other than resolution [9] to upgrade to UHD, of course, but the Rtings.com tools are a great place to start. After all, as a friend once told me at the dawn of the HD transition, “it all looks like HD if you sit far enough away!”