TV Viewing Distance Guide: Is it just a matter of personal preference?

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TV Viewing Distance Guide: Is it just a matter of personal preference?

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TV Viewing Distance Guide: Is it just a matter of personal preference?

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Home Theater Design - TV Viewing Distance Guide Updated: December 6, 2012

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TV Viewing Distance Guide: Is it just a matter of personal preference?

TV Viewing Distance and Screen Size
A Guide to Correct TV Placement for the best seating position
Optimum TV viewing distance is all a matter of screen size and image resolution, but not only... The TV size will also determine the maximum seating capacity of your home theater room if you want that all viewers enjoy an immersive experience. In this guide, we see how the TV size relates to the optimum viewing distance, image resolution and equally important, multiple-row seating in the home theater. The whole scope is to help you determine the correct TV placement - or rather the best seating position - for a truly immersive experience.

Optimum Viewing Distance for the best TV viewing experience
Many home theater owners are tempted to go for the biggest screen size they can afford when buying a big screen TV for their home entertainment. Others simply go for a TV size they think is big enough simply because it is bigger than their older TV!

Yet, there are more important considerations that comes into play when choosing your TV size... Is the TV screen size big enough for your viewing distance and seating capacity?

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If budget is an issue, should you opt instead for a lower-spec model in favor of a bigger TV? If you are after a truly immersive TV viewing experience, you cannot just pick up the TV size you want since the optimum TV screen size is directly related to the available viewing distance. And as we will show, there are more factors that need to be taken into consideration in this TV viewing distance - screen size equation. But don't worry! We simplify the whole process for you by presenting a

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few basic principles you can follow to determine the best screen size for your room as applicable to 2D TV viewing. We specify here the issue of 2D as with 3D TV viewing, things are slightly different due to other constraints come into play. We discuss the subject of 3D TV viewing in our article '3D TV Viewing Distance Explained' appearing under the 3D TV section of the site. It analyzes the principles as derived in this TV guide but applied within the limitations imposed by what is know as the 3D TV comfort zone. Article continues after this advertisement.

TV Viewing Distance: Some say it is all a question of personal preference, but is it really so?
Sit too close to your big screen TV and you will be able to see the image build-up structure scanning lines or pixels forming the image – thus distracting your attention and spoiling your home theater experience. Sit too far away and the impact will be lost. There are differing opinions on the best way to determine the optimum TV viewing distance for a specific screen size. Just go to the movie theater and you will soon realize that a lot of personal preference comes into play. Some will sit at the very back; others go straight to the front row for a bigger picture and a wider angle of view, while some simply choose their seat randomly somewhere between these two extremes.

Watching TV! (Picture by E. F. Baumgardner 1958)

The truth is that there are no scientific rules her. However, this does not mean there are no guidelines to follow when planning a big screen TV purchase for your home theater room or home entertainment. SMPTE and the THX Certification Standards The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommends that the screen size in the home theater should occupy a minimum of 30 degrees field of view in the horizontal plan at the seating position. This implies the ideal TV viewing distance should be adjusted such that the extreme ends of the screen width occupies a minimum angle of 30 degrees at the viewer, corresponds to a viewing distance that is 1.87 times the screen width. This 30-degree viewing angle has been accepted by many as the standard in home theater design and motion picture viewing. THX Certification: The THX certification standard specifies a range rather than just a minimum angle. THX requires the back row of seats to have at least a 26 degrees viewing angle and while the nearest seating
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position should correspond to an angle of view that is no more than 36 degrees. It is believed that within these viewing angle limits, the viewer will enjoy a more immersive viewing experience. These subtended angles correspond to a TV viewing distance that varies between 2.17 and 1.54 times the screen width. Vision System Limitations Both SMPTE and THX specify a viewing angle - or a viewing range in the case of THX - that yields a good seat. But how does correct TV placement relates to the viewer's vision system, more specifically, how does TV viewing distance relates to a person's visual acuity? The issue with visual acuity does not deal with the optimum viewing distance, rather this represents the maximum viewing distance beyond which some picture detail will be lost as a result of the limitations of one's eye sight. Technically speaking, visual acuity is a measure of the eye spatial resolving power and indicates the angular size of the smallest detail that a person visual system can resolve.

A person with 20/20 (or 6/6 when expressed in meters) normal vision can resolve a spatial pattern where each element within the pattern subtends a visual angle of one minute of arc angle i.e. 1/60th of a degree at the eye when viewed at 20 feet away. This represents the minimum angle of resolution (MAR). Expressed differently, a person with normal 20/20 vision is capable of identifying an object with a height of 0.0698-inch or 1.77mm at 20 feet way. From a TV viewing distance perspective, visual acuity represents the point beyond which some of the picture detail will no longer be resolved by the viewer vision system, as it will appear to blend with adjacent picture information. In practical terms, this implies that the smallest element comprising the image - the pixel - should have a size that is not smaller than 0.0698-inch when viewed from 20 feet away. Translating visual acuity limitations in terms of minimum image size when viewing takes places from 20 feet away would give: For NTSC standard definition TV, minimum image width is 640 x 0.0698", or approximately 45-inch. This gives a maximum viewing distance that is 5.37 times the screen width. Similarly, for HDTV, this gives a minimum image size of 89-inch for 720p HDTV (1280 x 720 pixel image) and 134-inch for 1080i and 1080p HDTV (1920 x 1080 pixel image.) In terms of screen width, these image

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sizes correspond to a maximum TV viewing distance that is 2.7 times for 720p, and 1.8 times the screen width for 1080p HDTV. In other words, you would not be able to enjoy the full benefits from the higher pixel count associated with a 1080p HDTV if you were to sit further away than 1.8 times the TV screen width from your HDTV. This means that if you were to increase the TV viewing distance to 2.7 times the screen width, the picture detail from a 1080p HDTV will appear just the same as that from a cheaper 720p HDTV of the same screen size!

What does this mean in practical terms?
We have already hinted on a simple way of relating viewing distance to screen size as resulting from SMPTE/THX recommendations and visual acuity limitations. To make things easier, we have come up with a rule-of-thumb that can help put in practice the guidelines detailed above. This guiding principle for TV viewing distance refers to the screen width rather than the screen diagonal since all is related to the subtended viewing angle in the horizontal plan. Furthermore, referring to the screen width has a further advantage - namely that it applies to any screen irrespective of its aspect ratio, whether that being 16:9 or 4:3.
The '2-to-5' Principle

For optimum TV viewing distance, the nearest seating position should be limited to approximately twice the screen width, while the furthest seating position should be no more than five times the width of your screen.

This should give a fairly good approximation for your TV viewing distance. Note however that it does not necessarily represent the ideal viewing distance in a home theater setup; rather it represents the limits within which your TV viewing distance should theoretically be out of the trouble zone. In other words, move closer than twice the screen width, and the picture scanning lines, pixel breakup and any other video artifacts will become too visibly intrusive, leading to distractions that will spoil your movie watching experience. Move further away than 5 times the screen width and your vision system will no longer be able to resolve all picture detail.
It is important to realize that...

These maximum and minimum TV viewing distances should be seen in the light of the video signal definition. A fully resolved high definition TV signal (1080i or 1080p, 1920x1080) supports a closer viewing distance than standard analog TV. Thus while one-and-a-half to twice the screen width would represent the ideal TV viewing distance for an HDTV 1080p display, it would be too close for standard television viewing. In the case of standard definition, sitting at more than three times the screen width represents a better option. Similarly, the five times the screen width as the maximum TV viewing distance, while more than adequate with standard definition video, is too far away for a person to see the fine detail supported by 720p and 1080p HDTV. Thus, when it comes to HDTV content, three times the screen width represents a more practical limit for the maximum viewing distance. Note: Our rule-of-thumb for minimum and maximum TV viewing distance applies irrespective of the screen size, yet it works best with TV sizes in excess of 40-inch diagonal.

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Anything smaller than this is too small to qualify as a big screen home theater option. At the smaller screen sizes, even if one were to stay within the optimum viewing distance as specified by SMPTE or THX, it would still be difficult to get a truly immersive viewing experience. Maths not for you? No problem!
The following table gives the recommended minimum and maximum viewing distance for different 1080p HDTV screen sizes:

TV Screen Size (Inches) 40 42 46 50 52 55 60 65

Minimum Viewing Distance (feet) 4.4 4.7 5.1 5.6 3.8 6.1 6.7 7.2

Maximum Viewing Distance (feet) 8.7 9.1 10 10.8 11.3 11.9 13 14.1

Optimum Viewing: Vertical Angle of View and Screen Height
There is more to optimum viewing than just a consideration based on the TV viewing distance. For a most comfortable viewing experience, optimum viewing would result when the eyes of the viewer are level with the center of the screen. Maximum vertical angle of view: Where this is not possible, the SMPTE guideline suggests that the maximum vertical angle measured at the seated eye height from the front row center seat to the topmost part of the TV screen of projected image, should not exceed 35 degrees. This does not represent the optimum vertical viewing angle but rather the limit beyond which the viewer will be subject to an increased neck strain. This maximum vertical angle limit is always measured from the front row as this represents the extreme angle of view. Minimum vertical angle of vision: While there are no specific SMPTE or THX guidelines, studies have shown that if the TV screen size is such that its height occupies less than 15 degrees of the viewer's vertical field of view, than the image would appear small. A Few Practical Considerations: In a typical home theater set-up, it is extremely unlikely you will have to worry about the maximum or minimum vertical angle of view for an effective movie theater experience if you were to mount your screen at the correct height.

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Adhering to the recommended TV viewing distances detailed above would automatically imply compliance with the minimum vertical angle of vision. In other words, the fixed relationship between screen height and width as determined by your HDTV or projected image aspect ratio simplifies this whole issue. Similarly, the same argument holds true for the maximum vertical angle of view beyond which the viewer will be subject to an increased neck strain. Remember however - you have to stay within the minimum TV viewing distance detailed in our calculations, i.e. no more close than 1.54 to 2 times the screen width. On the other hand, if you were to wall mount an LCD or plasma over the fireplace and sit too close to the TV screen, there is a real risk of approaching the recommended 35 degrees maximum vertical angle of view, thus subjecting the viewer to increased neck strain.

TV Viewing Distance and Multiple-Row Theater Seating
This discussion on TV viewing distance would not be complete without explaining how the conclusions we have arrived at, applies to multiple-row seating in the home theater. As indicated earlier on in this discussion, THX recommends a viewing angle ranging from 36 deg. maximum to 26 deg. minimum; within this range, every seat can be considered — theoretically — as a good seat. However, whether one can really sit at such a close TV viewing distance resulting in a field of view of 36 deg. depends on the quality of the video content and the pixel screen resolution. Multiple-row seating in the home theater and Screen Size The maximum number of rows in a home theater depends not only on the floor area, but also on the screen size, or rather the relative size of the screen width, with respect to the size of the theater seats. Just to clarify further: Assume you are using standard home theater seating; you will need approximately 44-inches per row. A 16:9 screen with a width of 100-inch would easily accommodate a third row while remaining within the 36-26 deg. range limit defined by THX. However, simple calculations show that if you were to move to a smaller screen having a 65-inch width (75-inch diagonal for a 16:9 screen), you would not be able to fit in a third row. Rule of thumb: Divide the screen width in inches by 30 and then round off to the nearest integer. The result will correspond to the maximum number of rows afforded by your screen size; this applies for standard size theater seating.

More information on the issue of multiple-row seating in the home theater is available in our Home Theater Seating Guide.

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Article Content Issues discussed in this viewing distance guide: SMPTE Rec., the THX Standard, and Visual Acuity: Analyzing the various recommendations and vision system constraints to arrive at the best TV viewing position. Optimum Viewing: Vertical Angle-of-View and Screen Height for comfortable TV viewing. Viewing Distance and Multiple-row Seating: How does our discussion relates to multiple row seating in a typical home theater environment? Optimal Viewing Distance for an Immersive 3D Experience: 3D imposes even more constraints on your TV viewing distance. Not only, your 3D TV screen size and TV viewing angle also play an equally important role in delivering a realistic 3D experience. Editor's Note: This article should also be seen in the light of our discussions on multi-channel correct speaker placement and home theater seating.

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