Is your TV too big?

Screen sizes are inching up, but going big may not be in your best interest. You have to consider the ideal amount of space between the TV and the people watching it.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 8, 2012 5:57PM

This post comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site MarketWatch.


MarketWatch logoWith TV watchers immersed in college and professional football games, Major League Baseball playoffs, and season openers for hot shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Dexter," it's relatively easy for manufacturers and retailers to make the case for increasingly bigger big-screen TVs.


Image: Watching television (© Maria Teijeiro/Getty Images/Getty Images)Shoppers may not want to buy into the hype, though -- a bigger set can often mean a worse viewing experience.


Industrywide, the screen size of the average TV produced has grown by 2 inches over the past year, to 36.8 inches as of August, according to DisplaySearch, a division of research firm NPD Group. Sharp has the biggest average size of panels shipped, at 48.3 inches -- and the biggest jump from last year, when that figure was 39.1 inches. Samsung screens are averaging 39.4 inches versus 37 inches last year, while LG-brand screens have increased to 38.9 from 36.2 inches last year.


The bigger the sets available, the bigger the sets consumers tend to buy, particularly in the U.S., where shoppers are typically more interested in screen size than features, says Paul Semenza, senior vice president of DisplaySearch. "It's about, how big of a set can I get into my room?" he says. The Consumer Electronics Association projects a 27% increase in sales of sets 60 inches and bigger next year, versus 6% for 55- to 59-inch sets.


Plus, as set prices drop, it's easier to get a bigger and better set for the same price during your next upgrade. And deals tend to be on larger-than-average models. Right now, manufacturers are pushing 46- and 47-inch models the hardest, says Louis Ramirez, the senior features writer for sale-tracking site "We're predicting the 46-inch category is going to be the new 42-inch," he says.

That was previously the sweet spot for pricing, which could entice more shoppers to buy even a little bigger. At the same time, shoppers may find smaller models -- like 32-inch sets -- less attractive, too. Most bear lesser-known brand names and lack the features of bigger models, like built-in Wi-Fi, he says.


But going bigger often isn't better for viewers. Retailers and installers often reference "optimal viewing distance" -- the ideal amount of space between a set and the person watching it. The bigger the set, the more space you'll need. The Consumer Electronics Association's rule of thumb is to sit at a distance of two to three times the screen's diagonal measurement. In other words, for that 46-inch set, viewers should be at least 7.67 feet away, but no further than 11.5 feet. For a 60-inch set, the span widens to between 10 and 15 feet.


Problem is, many people with fixed living room setups don't have that kind of space. That leads to a viewing experience that can be outright bad. "It's the same amount of pixels spread out over a larger viewing area," Semenza says. "On these really big sizes, you get anywhere near the set and you can see the pixels." Sitting too close can also cause eyestrain, points out Ramirez.


Assuming shoppers aren't buying that new 80-inch set for the great room of their mansions, they have two options: One, rearrange furniture to get maximum viewing distance, and buy the biggest set that works for that space. Or consider being an early adopter and springing for one of the new 4k TVs, which have four times the resolution of 1080p sets, Semenza says. (That solution has its own problems, including price tags in the neighborhood of $20,000, and no ultra-high-resolution content to take advantage of all those extra pixels.)


Even shoppers in the market for a smaller set may want to wait another month or two, Ramirez says. Those 46-inch sets, currently priced about $400, could see price drops of as much as 25% by Black Friday. "If you can hold off, definitely hold off," he says. "Holiday sales could save you a few hundred dollars."


More on MarketWatch and MSN Money:


Oct 8, 2012 8:11PM
My TV is so small I can hardly see it. But that's OK because there isn't really anything on there I want to see.
Oct 8, 2012 10:36PM
To steal (and modify) a line from Pink Floyd:

"I've got 13 (hundred) channels of S*** on the TV to choose from"....

Oct 8, 2012 10:57PM

 I bought a brand new 35" a few years ago and asked my mother if she wanted the old one. She got mad that I hadn't bought her a new tv.

get the set you want.

don't tell your mom.

Oct 9, 2012 10:32AM
TVs are like breasts, they can always be just a little bit bigger..
Oct 8, 2012 9:30PM
Must be a guy thing, like driving a muscle car in your forties.  I have a 40" screen and sit over 9' away and it looks fine.  I have a living room, not a sports bar.
Oct 8, 2012 7:58PM
When my waistline hit 48" that's when I decided to move up to a 55 incher...... now my tv fits my American couch potato life style.
Oct 9, 2012 12:37PM
I'm happy with my 40" but if I catch a really great sale on black Friday I might upgrade.  TVs these days have become disposable anyways.  When I was a kid, I had a Magnavox tube TV that lasted from grammar school till I graduated from college.  About 20 years!  These new TVs may only have a life span of 5-7 YEARS!  What the heck happened??
Oct 9, 2012 8:05AM
When I went to the movies,I use to sit right up front.  Must be why I like my 70" TV screen.It's one of the last DLPs they made,and was inexpensive compared to smaller plasmas/lcds.  I hope it lasts 15 years like my old DLP. 
 Big screen viewing is the best! Once you own one,you won't go back. I mostly watch old movies anyways..cable is 100+ channels of crap...too bad we can't choose only the stations we really want to watch.Ah well...progress!
Oct 8, 2012 10:24PM
I've GOT to send this to my neighbor!! He's got a 60+ inch TV, and the couch CAN'T be more than 10 feet away from it more than a few minutes, you'll feel like you're going wall-eyed!!! I actually get a headache watching it!!

I can't believe this article with its false information!


They are claiming one should sit at 3x the screen diagonal when the HD enthusiast sites recommend about half that (1.5 : 1 - 2 : 1). I also use computers and computer sites recommend that one doesn't get closer than 1.5 to 1 for the distance away vs. the screen diagonal and that advice applies here too. A 20" diagonal screen should be no closer than 30" from your eyes (about the length of your arm). A 40" screen should be 5 feet away.


In reality, you should look at the diagonal angle you feel comfortable with viewing at the movies and use that ratio (you can use fingers and thumbs outspread at arm's length to get the angle while at the theater) at home. Measure the distance from your eyes to the screen location at home so you can test that vewing angle correctly at the store. Most of you will find that is about a 1.5 : 1 to 2 : 1 ratio.


Oct 9, 2012 3:03PM
Hmmm,  70" sharp LED in living room about 10' away, 55" Samsung LED in bedroom about 10' away, 50inch Viera Panasonic 3D LED for a computer monitor that I sit about 4-5' from.  All with blue ray players in wonderful 1080P.  I just don't see what the problem is:-).  All works great!
Oct 9, 2012 2:54PM

I could understand this if there were any good TV programs to watch. But other than the news and PBS, I find most TV insulting, boring and just plain dumb. 

And then the commercials - do they really think we are that stupid?


I still have my old analog TV, have cable and get some 250 stations - and 5 are worth watching.

I use it more for the music channels than anything else.


Instead of larger TV's how about better Programs?

Oct 9, 2012 3:24PM
I bought a 60 inch sharp with surround sound and added the highest quality cable and DVD. I also have Verizon's on demand system for movies. One of the main reasons for buying such a large screen is to avoid going to the movies, the hassle of parking, ridiculous fees for drinks popcorn etc. Haven't been to the movies since and the convnience well out weight the price of the set.
I am happy with my 40 inch t.v. but my other 4 t.v.s are fine as well, a 30, two 21s and 15 inch, each in a different room of course and I hate t.v. do not know why I have 5 of them when the programs, cable, dish etc are all so crappy. what happened to writers, producers for fresh, good shows. it is all copycat shows and reruins from, I guess back in the day when there were good writers and producers, guess they all died.
Oct 9, 2012 10:35AM

What I want to know is what moron decided on the 9 x 16 aspect ratio of all "wide-screen" displays?


No TV programming or any DVD's use that ratio!


No matter which display format you choose, something is either blank, clipped or distorted.

Oct 9, 2012 12:45PM
I sit about 22 feet from my 60" TV, no wonder I don't like the picture, I need to go bigger.  I wasn't happy with the 65" I had before it, but I  went smaller with LED/LCD and with I would have went bigger. I have to get up to read small print when text is shown on the TV now.
Oct 9, 2012 4:16PM

My guess is that there are still a few folks who haven't 'upgraded' to a flat-screen TV. The article provides good information relating to the size of the TV in proportion to the size of your living space. However, many folks don't realize how easy it is to end up with a 'smaller' picture when upgrading from a standard screen TV to a wide screen TV.


Here's something you NEED to know: Preserve the screen height when upgrading.

(A wider TV might have an overall larger 'diagonal' screen measurement, but you might actually loose height. It is like watching a wide screen movie on a standard TV; the top and bottom are blacked out so the width of the picture fits.)


The TV screen size is the measure of the diagonal of the screen. So, you really don't know the height of your screen unless you measure it (or work it out mathematically). If you have a 27 inch standard screen, you will lose picture height if you purchase a 27 inch wide screen TV. In fact, to keep the same picture height, you will need to purchase a 42 inch wide screen TV or bigger.


If you think it through, it makes sense. A wide screen TV adds substantial width. The additional width increases the 'diagonal' measurement without necessarily increasing the height.


So, before going to the store, measure the height of your screen. Then take your tape measure or yard stick to the store and measure the height of the wide screen TV you like. You will insure that you do not downgrade to a smaller picture while upgrading to a larger and more expensive TV.


(If you like math, a standard TV has a screen with a height to width ratio of 4:3. A widescreen TV has a ratio of 16:9. I think that is generally the case on wide screen TV's.)

Oct 9, 2012 1:42PM

The dimensions of a HDTV are deceptive. While older TVs had a similar diagonal measurement, the picture area was greater than that of a HDTV. Someone who had a 32" older TV would have to buy a 37" HDTV to get the same impact. Resolution becomes a factor too when you can sit closer to the HDTVs and not see horizontal scan lines. Larger is better with HDTV. It might upset some stupid interior designer who knows nothing about how real people appreciate their media, but those designers are still designing pretty little rooms with light carpeting and a reading nook and a precious quality that doesn't function well in the real world. You don't even have to have a special room if the space is designed correctly. I have a 47" HDTV I sit 10 feet away from. It is not too big. I want a 60" because I love movies. 

Oct 9, 2012 10:18AM
No such thing as TOO BIG of a viewing screen except when it won't physically fit in the room.
Oct 8, 2012 8:18PM
Let's see.  Which one?  If if doesn't fit in my (paid-for) house, the answer would be "yes."  Else "no."
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