Pixels & Bits: Picking a proper viewing distance for your TV

Written by Sean Cahill on 6/12/2012 for AV
More On: Pixels & Bits
Welcome to Pixels & Bits, where the staff at GamingNexus will take a weekly look at the impact of audio and video products (as well as related gear) that enhances the gaming experience.  In this serialized article, we will discuss audio and video products, accessories and opinions on how these work within the confines of the gaming experience.  In this week’s article, we look at one of the biggest issues when picking a new HDTV:  Viewing distance.

Television size and viewing distance used to never be an issue.  In the days of analog cable, VCRs, and Super Nintendos, a person generally just had to find something that they liked and pick it up.  Most tube televisions were capped at about 32 inches in size unless there was a specialized order by a customer or a high end retailer received top of the line models.  Once widescreen televisions hit the market, the process of buying a television became very complicated for consumers.  Plasmas, LCDs, LEDs, DLPs, a consumer can make that choice on their own simply by reading about what works best in what situation.  What they can't choose on their own without truly seeing the product is the size of the television.

Going into an electronics retailer can be very intimidating, especially since organizations, companies, and consumers can't even agree on the proper way to decide what's best.  Wikipedia has three of the most popular formulas (Yes, formulas) that have been suggested, along with what is known as Fixed Distance, Retail Recommendations, and Manufacturer Recommendations.  The formulas are used in coorespondance with the degree of the viewing angle.  Without getting into a very confusing breakdown of what each is, let's focus more on the formulas themselves before simplifying everything into numbers that anyone can go with.

Formula #1:  Diagonal Measurement x 2.5 (20-degree viewing angle)

Formula #2:  Diagonal Measurement x 1.6 (30-degree viewing angle)

Formula #3:  Diagonal Measurement x 1.2 (40-degree viewing angle)

When dealing with these formulas, people often get confused on the viewing angle and get far too locked into the numbers.  In my personal experience, the second formula is the one that works out to be the most accurate.  However, if you are regularly using sources that support 1080p, such as a Blu-Ray or true 1080p PS3 games, then the third formula is usually the one to go with, which is the recommendation of THX.  I can't truly argue with THX that the formula works, but one thing that consumers need to worry about is picking something that ends up being too big for their viewing distance, which really gets into the meat of this article:  Pixelation.

For those who do not know the term, Pixelation isn't a term that was supposed to be a negative, but ended up being one of those magic terms that no one wants to hear.  The actual term, of course, is when a bitmap image is zoomed in or blown up and the individual pixels can be viewed.  All images have pixels in it when dealing with electronic media, but when someone says that their TV is pixelating, it's usually due to a poor signal from the source that is plugged into the television.  When dealing with our topic at hand, it's quite simple:  Sit too close to a big HDTV and every individual pixel will be able to be seen, thus resulting in a bad picture.

The simple question to all of this information, of course, is how to avoid pixelation and get the best picture quality and size for your money? The short answer is to follow a guideline that a person can trust.  Of those formulas above, the second formula works quite well for most situations.  For example, I personally own a 55" Panasonic ST30 Plasma.  My viewing distance is 86".  The formula on the 55" models comes out to a suggested distance of 88", which is about perfect for what I have.  I can tell anyone that my picture quality is fantastic, no matter if I'm watching cable TV, streaming Netflix, or playing games on any of the consoles I own.  Now, this is not to say that a 55" television is going to only be right at that distance.  Retail suggestions say anything from six and a half feet all the way up to close to thirteen feet, and those suggestions aren't terrible at all.

The bottom line is this:  Take a look at all of the guidelines and try not to get intimidated by the major formulas.  Manufacturer and retail recommendations are very good when dealing with purchasing a new television.  They are set in place so a person doesn't go into a retailer and buy a 73" television when they are sitting all of six feet away.  Simple preparation is what saves a person time and trouble.  Taking a tape measure and measuring out the distance to the various seats in the room in which the new television will be sitting at is the best information a person can bring with them when asking for professional help.

***Part of this article used information from Wikipedia and is not intended to infringe upon any information that belongs to a specific person, company, or organization.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.