Sizing HDTV Screens for Home Theater vs. Living Room
published onJanuary 27, 2012

One of the biggest questions we get from our residential customers is “What size HDTV screen should I get?” A lot of people think the right answer is, “The biggest you can afford.” Sure, we’d love to sell you more screen but we’re more interested in giving customers home entertainment solutions that will make them happy. If we can save you money by recommending the right size screen — not too big, and not too small — that’s even better.

The misunderstanding comes when people use Home Theater references to place an LED or Plasma screen in their living room. It’s a completely different viewing experience.

When you enter a Home Theater, you want to be literally enveloped in the action. Maybe you want the plush chairs, dim lights, surround sound, and even the fresh-popped movie theater popcorn. If you want to go all out and never pay $12 or more for a movie ticket, go for it! You might even consider getting an HD projector and screen for a real movie experience right in your home.

We talk about the optimal viewing distances for an HDTV screen in a home theater in this blog post. Remember: the goal is immersion, while being able to see all the details on the screen.

Optimal HDTV Viewing Distance in Your Living Room

When you place an HDTV in a living room that also serves other functions beyond media (such as family game night, conversation, get-togethers), you may want to take other aspects into consideration beyond simply what is the optimal viewing distance.

The maximum recommended viewing distance is about three to six times the diagonal size of the screen. Much farther than this, and it may be hard to make out many of the details; much closer, and (as your mom’s told you countless times) it’s not good for your eyes to sit that close to a television screen, and it’s also harder to see!

When you get to the high end of this range (six times the width of the screen) you’re too far away for the immersive experience of home theatre. But in a living room, not every seat is going to be placed optimally to the HDTV screen, because there are other considerations (flow of traffic, seating conducive to conversations, etc.)

Techorating and the HDTV in Your Living Room

More and more today, people are using their HDTV as a design element in the room, which means they may sacrifice optimal placement for placement that fits the decor better.

One example is placing an HDTV above a fireplace mantel or mounted high on a wall. This is never optimal because you have to look up to see the TV. But it can give a decent view of the TV to more seats in the room and provide more useable space in the living room. It also positions the screen as more of a design element than an entertainment center.

With today’s HDTVs, when no one is watching a show, you can set your TV to run a slideshow of family photos off your FlickR account, create graphics to display using PowerPoint, or even turn your LCD or LED screen into a piece of artwork by showing JPGs of your favorite art prints. Why not take a cue from your local bar or nightclub and use your HDTV to display eye candy for ambiance during your next get-together?

You can really go all-out by hiding HDTV wires behind walls or using on-wall wire management systems that match your decor to really help your TV blend in to a living room, dining room or family room. Then take the next step and mount your components, such as the DirecTV or cable box, Blu-Ray player, and game systems in a nearby equipment closet, with proper ventilation, for a really high-end look in your living room.

The bottom line? It’s your house. Your rules. The “right” placement of your HDTV is the placement you’ll be most comfortable with.