It might be that time. Time to redecorate the man cave, upgrade the living room, or take your gaming experience up to the next level. You want a new TV, but really, should it be a matter of thinking “What size TV do I need?” or more like “What is the biggest TV I can fit on the wall?” Isn’t bigger always better?
It is a decidedly modern question, and the notes of concern it carries with it are decidedly modern too. How big is too big? Will an undersized television look miserly, strain the eyes, or otherwise detract from the harmony of home?
It’s not like TVs are necessarily any cheaper these days. The first commercially available TV sets debuted in 1938 and retailed for $125 to $150. That’s $2,240 to $2,690 in today’s money. For that price, you and your family could gather around a luxuriously fullsome three inches of screen. The 5-inch version cost closer to $4,000 and neither system came with sound. You had to pay extra for audio equipment in those days.
For much of their history, the actual size of televisions was more of a function of technology than aesthetics. Post-War America saw the introduction of seven-inch sets, and by 1954, over half of all American households had a television.
By 1962, that figure climbed to 90 percent. TV’s became decidedly less furniture-like and sizes ranging from 19 to 22 inches were increasingly common.
So, what size TV do I need?
Back in the day, when people asked themselves this question, they probably didn’t take into account the size of the room they were sitting in. Screens remained relatively dinky right up until the late 1990s when flat screen technology exploded onto the market.
The average screen size of such sets started at 32 inches and continued to rise. By 2014, 63 percent of global sales were for televisions measuring more than 40 inches.
Measure for pleasure
Which brings us back to the here and now. Your TV just went on the fritz. The wife said you could buy a new one. The first question that flits through the mind is, “What size TV do I need?”
Before you can answer that question, it’s best to remember that the size advertised is a measurement taken along the diagonal axis. The early manufacturers of televisions took a leaf out of Pythagoras’ book by co-opting his theorem; it helped to make their tiny screens sound more impressive. These days it’s done more out of convention than anything else.
Stiff upper limit
Still, regardless of how you choose to measure your television, there has to be an upper limit to their size, right? During the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung unveiled a 146-inch beast of a flat screen TV called merely “The Wall.”
Drool-worthy though the screen – in actuality a series of smaller screens slotted together seamlessly – might be, the eventual price tag is rumored to be more than $100,000. The cost of its soon to be released little brother, a 75-inch version based around the same modular design, is also as of yet unknown.
But merely aiming for the largest screen that you can afford might not be a great idea anyway. Small rooms and oversized televisions make poor bedfellows. The 75-inch Samsung mentioned above is for example, best viewed from a distance of around ten and a half feet.
Affordable screen size is also in a state of flux. A premium is placed on the current generations upper limit so answering the question of “What size TV do I need?” with “As large as they come,” might get expensive.
Size vs. cost
That’s because the price of a television scales with its dimensions. The bigger they are, the higher the price tag. A 32-inch Samsung LED TV, for example, is only going to set you back around $199 to $225. The 49-inch version retails for $399 to $425.
Which is not to say that size alone is a perfect predictor of cost. There are curved TVs, and smart TVs, HD, and UHD 4K, standards to consider.
It can get a little bit confusing.
The main problem with the ever-expanding waistline of televisions is related to resolution. In laymen’s terms, the resolution of a screen refers to the number of pixels it can display measured across its length and height.
For example, a TV that has 1920 pixels horizontally, and 1080 vertically has a resolution of 1920×1080 which often referred to as ‘1080p or Full HD (High Definition.)
The move to HD television was a necessary step toward creating larger viewing areas. Stretching the old 640×480 standard definition image across anything more substantial than 30 inches resulted in a blurry picture. The HD renaissance corrected this problem but hit a similar wall at around the 50-inch mark.
Not that consumers were primarily concerned with the constraints of technology. The onset of UHD (Ultra High Definition) technology with its minimum resolution of 3840×2160 enabled levels of detail that continued to look impressive across even the largest of screens.
Or at least, they did up to a point.
A secondary level of UHD offers a resolution of 7680 × 4320 (33.2 megapixels) more commonly referred to as 8K is also on the market. Such detail works best on the very largest of screens, but as always, premium features come with a premium price tag attached.
Samsung’s 75-inch Class Q900 QLED Smart 8K UHD TV, for example, is going to set you back somewhere between $6,799 and $6,999.
Of course, the resolution isn't the only innovation out there.
One of the problems with all these tiny dots is that as they light up, some of that light ‘bleeds’ over to an adjacent pixel. That makes it harder to display truly brilliant colors and even more challenging to provide ultra dark contrasts.
Different companies came up with different solutions to this problem, but they both resulted in the buzzword HDR which stands for High Dynamic Range. Marketing jargon aside HDR offers unparalleled vibrancy of color and contrast.
Both Samsung’s QLED TV lines and LG’s OLED offer HDR on most of their newer models. The improvements the technology provides are significant, so its something to bear in mind when asking yourself “What size TV do I need?”
Room for a view
Because the answer to that question depends mostly on individual circumstance. If you have a large enough space – and the budget to go with it – then you’re going to end up with a 4K television at the very least.
That means a set with all the bells and whistles attached including smart features, curved screens (if you so desire) and HDR 10 as a standard.
That said, the largest television currently on the market is the Samsung Class Q90R QLED Smart 4K UHD Measuring in at a whopping 82 inches and a price tag of between $6,250 and $6,499 it’s not for the faint of wallet.
Even if your budget stretches that far it’s entirely possible that this television is less than ideal for the space you intend to put it in.
So the actual calculation is going to depend on the distance you wish to view the TV from mitigated by the resolution of the screen you intend to buy. According to Amazon the best way to do this is to measure the distance from your couch to your TV in feet.
Next, multiply that by 7.7, and you’ll have the maximum screen size for your space in inches. So if you’re going to be sitting nine feet away, you’re TV should be no larger than 69 inches.
An 82-inch TV then has an optimal viewing distance of an eye-watering eleven and a half feet. That’s around half the entire length of the average American living room for those who were wondering.
Even if you have that much space, there’s a slight problem with UHD. It’s hard to make out the difference in picture quality at such ranges. At around ten to fourteen feet, for example, the human eye's ability to differentiate between 4k and standard HD is much diminished. Making out the quality difference between 4k and 8k requires an even closer look.
And therein lies the paradox.
The larger the screen, the further away you have to sit to take in the entire vista. But the further away you sit, the less able you are to enjoy the increased resolution offered by modern features. For this reason, the recommended viewing distance for a UHD screen is less than it is for Full HD.
Around one and a half times, the size of the screen is a good rule of thumb.
This simple fact creates a slight disconnect between aesthetics and optimization. The 82 inches of a Q90R QLED looks best placed eleven and a half feet away, but the performance spike is more noticeable at a range of around 10 feet. A little closer is even better.
And if all this sounds needlessly complex then worry not. You don’t have to waste too much time asking yourself “What TV size do I need?” because there are plenty of online resources that have crunched the maths on your behalf.
Using them to establish a ballpark figure is highly recommended. Just remember to take into account the features of the TV you are going to buy. After that, all that is left is to tweak the numbers as they relate to personal taste. The optimal viewing experience is one thing. Making sure the living space looks good quite another.
Of course, with so many free-to-use room designers available across the internet it’s possible to plug in some numbers and have a quick peek at how the TV is going to look in situ. And then all that is left to do is to sit back and luxuriate in that new TV experience.
When you're ready to purchase a tv, what are your most important considerations? Tell us in the comments below.