When someone comes into one of our showrooms to talk about designing a custom home theater, the first question we are usually asked is, "What size screen should I buy?" Of course, there is not one size fits all answer. The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a screen size is your viewing angle. This is determined largely by the distance you sit from the screen.
Viewing Angle and Distance
When HDTV was being developed as a format, the final research indicated a 30-degree viewing angle was optimum for the 1080i standard of HDTV. The testing suggested viewers felt a pleasant level of presence and immersion when the viewing angle was 30 degrees or greater. To put this into perspective, a 52” diagonal HDTV set should be viewed at a maximum distance of about 7 feet.
For viewing movies, THX (Tom Holman and George Lucas’s company for movie standards) recommends a viewing angle of 36 degrees. SMPTE suggests the best viewing angles in a theater fall within the 35 to 55-degree range. Again, for some perspective, this puts the ideal distance from a 52” set at 5.8’ or less for viewing movies.
What does this mean for the consumer? It means most people are sitting way too far away from their sets for an immersive experience! We think that is totally true. If you really want the true home theater experience, you need a big front projection screen, period. However, lets not forget that a 52” HDTV set is still a lot more fun to watch than an old 36” tube non-HD TV!! We suggest you buy the biggest (and best television, because big and not good is unpleasant) picture you can get. Don’t go over the recommended ratios, but try to stay as close as your room and budget allow.
The good news is, for the typical room used as a home theater, you can achieve real SMPTE standards and have that immersive effect!
How High Should The Screen Be?
THX states in their manual for designing movie theaters, the maximum vertical angle should be 35 degrees. This means if you were looking straight ahead from your seat and looked up, you should not have to look up more than 35 degrees to see the top of your picture. We feel this is actually pushing the limit as this spec pertains to the front row of seats in a theater. For most people, an angle of 15-25 degrees works out about perfectly. In the world of home theater, this can get a bit tricky to achieve with multiple rows of seating and sight line issues. This is when hiring a home theater company skilled in theater design can make or break your home theater project.
Once again, this means many people with flat panel TV’s above their fireplace have them mounted up too high to meet the spec. However, remember, if you slouch back or have a reclining chair, the angles all shift!
One great way to figure out both screen size and viewing angle is to simply get some painters tape and mask off the proposed image size on your wall, or for smaller screens, just cut out a piece of cardboard. Sit back and see if it seems right from both a size and height perspective, then at least you will know you did a little analysis before you made your decision.
Let Us Help
Of course, for a true home theater, our experts will lay out all of this for you to help design the optimum experience for your room! And, don’t forget to ask about the newest technology for film viewing in the home, the 2:35 anamorphic experience. This really puts you in the cinema for the best immersive experience we have ever seen!