How to Choose the Best Home Theater Screen Size
This video is part of our Home Theater Design Series that covers virtually everything you need to know about designing a home theater. Here, we will explore how to choose the best size for your TV or front projection home theater system. We’ve culminated in the advice of the movie industry and our years of experience with real-world home theaters to take the guesswork out of helping you choose the perfect screen size. You’ll just need a tape measure and a calculator. In addition to our world-class home theater design tool, we've given you everything you need to begin your home theater journey in Home Theater Central.
Through our Audio Advice stores, we have installed thousands of home theaters and media rooms. One thing we have never heard anyone say is: “The screen is too big”! Yes, when it comes to home theater, it seems like bigger is always better! The advent of 4K content with 8K coming soon has also improved the argument for an even larger screen. With all of this high-resolution content, you just can not see any video artifacts unless you are almost right on top of the screen.
One of the most commonly asked questions we get is, how big should my screen be? Well, the answer is usually, as big as you can make it! If you want watching a movie at home to be the same type of fully immersive experience you get in a movie theater, the screen needs to fill up a pretty good percentage of your field of vision or what may be called horizontal viewing angle. You can research this subject and get various answers.
What the Experts Say
There are two groups that lead the charge in specifying what should be the proper viewing distance. One is SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Theater Engineers) and the other is THX (a Lucasfilm standard set). For a 16:9 screen, SMPTE recommends a 30-degree viewing angle from the screen while THX suggests a 36-degree viewing angle. As the viewing angle increases in value, you would be sitting closer to the screen.
We have had hundreds of customers sit in our theater rooms to determine what percentage feels right for them. We simply play an action film and have them change their distance to the screen until it feels right for them. When we design their theater using this math, they are always extremely happy. If you are reading this and are not nearby either of our two locations, we can share what the average viewer likes so you can get close without the full experiment we do in our stores.
Decide What Type Of Screen
Step one is deciding which of the two aspect ratios you want for your home theater. The two aspect ratios are 16:9 and 2.40. For most people, it's going to be a 16:9 aspect ratio. This does mean that you’ll see some black bars on a widescreen movie, but all flat panel TV’s and the good majority of front projectors are a 16:9 aspect ratio. For more information on what widescreen is all about and why you want it if you are building a high-performance theater, check out our article Widescreen Explained.
Get Out Your Tape Measure
The next step is to measure the distance from the screen to your main seating position. If you have the ability to change your seating position, this is good, you might move closer to the screen for what feels like a larger image. Make a note of your distance and get out a calculator.
We suspect you already know your personal preference of where you like to sit in a movie theater, that is if you had your choice of exactly where the distance felt great to your eyes. We find that a lot of people choose the middle of the theater, while a smaller group likes to sit closer to the front row. We’ll go over the math for both of these choices.
If you like to sit near the middle row in a commercial theater, for a 16:9 ratio screen, most people feel a 30-degree field of vision is perfect. For 2.40 widescreen, a 42-degree field of vision is chosen most of the time.
For those of you who like to get closer to the front row, a 36-degree field of vision is the best choice for 16:9 and a 48 degree for a 2.40 screen will be awesome. We are actually in this camp for our personal theaters as we feel this size gives you a more immersive experience.
Do the Math
So how do you use this to figure out your ideal screen size? Well, rather than make you go back to 10th grade geometry, we did the math for you.
If You Like Viewing in the Middle Row
For a 16:9 screen and a 30-degree field of vision, simply take the distance you will sit from the screen in inches and multiply it by .6149 to get the screen diagonal. In this example, if you are sitting 7 feet away from the screen the formula looks like this. Translate the 7 feet to inches, which gets you 84. Multiply 84 times .6149 which equals 51.65, so in that situation, a 50-55” diagonal” TV would be great. At 12 feet (144”) it would be 144 times .6149 which equals 88.55 inches so an 85-95” sized screen would be good at that distance.
For 2.40 widescreen, you use .83 as the multiplier. In this example, if you were sitting 10 feet from the screen a 99.6” diagonal 2.40 screen would be perfect.
84 x .6149 = 51.65
50-55" is ideal for 30-degree viewing angle
30 degree field of vision
If you Like Viewing Towards the Front Row
To get a 36-degree field of vision with a 16:9 screen use your distance from the screen, convert it to inches and multiply it times .746 to get the suggested diagonal size. For example: if you were 84” away from the screen you would multiply 84 times .746 which equals 83.25” so an 82-85” screen would be great for you.
With a 2.40 screen to achieve a 48-degree viewing angle, it's your distance times .963. This means if you were 10 feet away from the screen multiply 120 times .963 which equals about 115” for the 2.40 diagonal size.
Audio Advice Tip: Once you have done the math to figure out the ideal screen size, get some painters tape and tape out what the screen or projected image size will be to see how it will feel to you.
Bigger is Better
As you can see, to get that immersive theater experience, the screen needs to be pretty large. This is why most people opt for a front projector over a flat panel TV when they are sitting more than about 12’ away as when you go over 85” for a flat panel they get quite expensive.
As projector technology has improved it is easier to go with larger projector screen sizes. The one caveat about a front projector is that you do need to think about its light output as you go really large. Some projectors are not capable of lighting up a 2.40 screen larger than a 150” diagonal.
- 4K has made bigger screens more popular
- You can find your ideal screen size by referencing where you like to sit in a movie theater
- You can use a tape measure and calculator to see the results.
- Bigger is usually better for an immersive home theater experience
We Are Here To Help
If you are working with one of our experts, we can also help you do your own math at home to find your perfect screen size. We can have you sit in front of your current TV (if it's at least 55” in diagonal, we find smaller does not work that well) then get your answer and reverse engineer things for you!
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