The Big Picture
“Either Way I’ll Get into the Garden”
Part of the escape of television and movies is being so caught up the magical world on the other side of the screen that we’re drawn into it.
Theaters use a proscenium to frame the stage and serve as a visual cue, a portal by which you, the audience enter the story.
In much the same way, the television in our modern home entertainment venue acts as this door into the experience. The TV itself, and its setup, can be supremely vital in how we get immersed in our movies and shows. A conundrum every buyer faces is “How big a TV should I have?”
The answer is not straightforward, but there is a method, rooted in science, that can help guide the decision-making process. Mind you, what we’re discussing isn’t meant as a guideline for casual viewing – truthfully, that becomes far more subjective than objective. The TV in the den or the master bedroom doesn’t need to follow the rules set for critical viewing. What we’re addressing is what you might consider your primary viewing environment, where you are trying to capture the full experience as intended by those that composed it.
The first consideration is your field of view. This hinges not only on the size of the display, but the arrangement of the seating. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommends that the picture on the screen encompass 30° of your field of view (FoV), that is to say that if you are staring at the screen, the portion of your view where your focus lies. Depending on the resolution (say, 1080i/p), that 30° arc results in what has been coined the “window effect” where your brain is convinced that what you are viewing is live, being seen through a window or frame.
Next, and likely the crucial component in deciding on a screen size, stems from visual acuity and picture structure. Those are fancy terms that for the layman simply reference your seating distance from the display. The ranges of seating distances depend on the resolution of the viewing material and your overall critical eye. The picture accompanying this post is an excellent guide that reflects seating distance ranges for screen sizes based on the source material’s resolution. If you play, as most of us do, a mix of resolutions, say, primarily 1080i/p and 4k material, your best option is to select a seating distance based on screen size that falls on the common line between the two formats. Having been conditioned and trained to look for certain things in the image, I find myself forced to sit at the farthest recommended range for specific resolutions, or I catch a glimpse of something in the picture that pulls me out of the experience. The goal is to just see an image, that “window effect,” not how it is made.
The final piece to make it all come together is screen height placement within the room. In most, existing rooms, we are sadly at the mercy of the construction and layout of the room. Often, compromise is made – but where you have control or planning, or can affect a change, this step will benefit your perception of the image quality. Based on a couple human factors, like the way your eyes focus, that natural at-rest position for your head when you are seated, and based on the way displays project (or reflect, like projector/screen combinations) the light to your eye, it is recommended that you mount your screen so that your eyes line up with the bottom ⅓ to bottom ½ of the screen. For example, if when seated, my eye height is 36” up from the floor, the bottom ⅓ of my screen should fall below 36”. This keeps your eyes at rest when watching, prevents strain on your neck, and helps ensure that the proper colors and light output from the display reach your eyes correctly. When using a projector, the screen size is generally quite large, and the seating distance is farther back, and in those cases, a good rule is to mount the screen so the bottom of the screen is at eye-level; plus, there may be multiple tiers of seating, and those different levels must be accounted for. I advise marking the wall with tape to gauge best where those points fall if some adjusting needs to be considered.
Most of what has been covered here is laid out in greater, yet understandable, detail by the fantastic folks at rtings.com. Click on the link to see what they address.
Following these guides will help you in getting the right screen size for your space. With some crucial adjustments to front panel controls, or opting instead for professional calibration of your display (topics for a later post), you will be ready to enter new worlds of entertainment through the window-like portal of your TV or screen.
Part of the escape and exhilaration always comes from opening that door.