1080p Does Matter – Here’s When (Screen Size vs. Viewing Distance vs. Resolution)

I’ve read various articles debating the importance of the 1080p. I want to set the record straight once and for all: if you are serious about properly setting up your viewing room, you will definitely benefit from 1080p (and even 1440p.) Why? Because the 1080p resolution is the first to deliver enough detail to your eyeball when you are seated at the proper distance from the screen. But don’t just take my word for it: read on for the proof.

There are a few obvious factors to being able to detect resolution differences: the resolution of the screen, the size of the screen, and the viewing distance. To be able to detect differences between resolutions, the screen must be large enough and you must sit close enough. So the question becomes “How do I know if need a higher resolution or not?”. Here is your answer.

Based on the resolving ability of the human eye (with 20/20 vision it is possible to resolve 1/60th of a degree of an arc), it is possible to estimate when the differences between resolutions will become apparent. Using the Home Theater Calculator spreadsheet as a base, I created a chart showing, for any given screen size, how close you need to sit to be able to detect some or all of the benefits of a higher resolution screen. (Click the picture below for a larger version.)

Resolution vs. Screen Size vs. Viewing Distance Chart

What the chart shows is that, for a 50-inch screen, the benefits of 720p vs. 480p start to become apparent at viewing distances closer than 14.6 feet and become fully apparent at 9.8 feet. For the same screen size, the benefits of 1080p vs. 720p start to become apparent when closer than 9.8 feet and become full apparent at 6.5 feet. In my opinion, 6.5 feet is closer than most people will sit to their 50″ plasma TV (even through the THX recommended viewing distance for a 50″ screen is 5.6 ft). So, most consumers will not be able to see the full benefit of their 1080p TV.

However, front projectors and rear projection displays are a different story. They make it very easy to obtain large screen sizes. Plus, LCD and Plasma displays are constantly getting larger and less expensive. In my home, for example, I have a 123-inch screen and a projector with a 1280×720 resolution. For a 123-inch screen, the benefits of 720p vs. 480p starts to become apparent at viewing distances closer than 36 feet (14 feet behind my back wall) and become fully apparent at 24 feet (2 feet behind my back wall). For the same screen size, the benefits of 1080p vs. 720p start to become apparent when closer than 24 feet and become full apparent at 16 feet (just between the first and second row of seating in my theater). This means that people in the back row of my home theater would see some improvement if I purchased a 1080p projector and that people in the front row would notice a drastic improvement. (Note: the THX recommended max viewing distance for a 123″ screen is 13.7 feet).

So, how close should you be sitting to your TV? Obviously, you need to look at your room and see what makes sense for how you will be using it. If you have a dedicated viewing room and can place seating anywhere you want, you can use this chart as a guideline. It’s based on THX and SMPTE specifications for movie theaters; the details are available in the Home Theater Calculator spreadsheet.

Recommended Seating Distances and Resolution Benefits

Looking at this chart, it is apparent that 1080p is the lowest resolution to fall within the recommended seating distance range. Any resolution less than 1080p is not detailed enough if you are sitting the proper distance from the screen. For me and many people with large projection screens, 1080p is the minimum resolution you’d want.

In fact, you could probably even benefit from 1440p. If you haven’t heard of 1440p, you will. Here’s a link to some info on Audioholics.com. It is part of the HDMI 1.3 spec, along with 48-bit color depth, and will probably surface for the public in 2009 or so. You’ll partially be able to see the benefits of 1440p at the THX Max Recommended viewing distance and the resolution benefits will be fully apparent if you are just a little closer. I’ve read of plans for resolutions reaching 2160p but I don’t see any benefit; you’d have to sit too darn close to the screen to notice any improvement. If you sit too close, you can’t see the far edges of the screen.

In conclusion

If you are a videophile with a properly setup viewing room, you should definitely be able to notice the resolution enhancement that 1080p brings. However, if you are an average consumer with a flat panel on the far wall of your family room, you are not likely to be close enough to notice any advantage. Check the chart above and use that to make your decision.

ISF states the the most important aspects of picture quality are (in order): 1) contrast ratio, 2) color saturation, 3) color accuracy, 4) resolution. Resolution is 4th on the list and plasma is generally superior to LCD in all of the other areas (but much more prone to reflections/glare.) So pick your display size, then measure your seating distance, and then use the charts above to figure out if you would benefit from the larger screen size. So be sure to calibrate your screen! I recommend the following for calibration.

Recommended Calibration Tools

“I don’t like reading charts – just tell me what resolution I need”

If you don’t like reading charts and are looking for a quick answer, enter you screen size below to see how close you’ll need to sit to fully appreciate various screen resolutions.

Enter screen size: inches diagonal

  • For 480p (720×480) resolution, you must sit:
    feet or closer for full benefit
  • For 720p (1280×720) resolution, you must sit:
    feet or closer for full benefit
  • For 1080p (1920×1080) resolution, you must sit:
    feet or closer for full benefit
  • For 4k (3840×2160) resolution, you must sit:
    feet or closer for full benefit
  • For 8k (7680×4320) resolution, you must sit:
    feet or closer for full benefit
Written by in: Home Theater | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Last updated on: 2014-May-27 |

796 Comments »

  • Ben Neussbaum says:

    Great site! I need some advice. I’m deciding between the Sony XBR-55HX950 and the Samsung UN55f8000. I would appreciate your opinion. Thanks, Ben

  • aditya says:

    Wonderful information Ben.If you discussion something about HD connection delivering SD channel specially in India.How blurr in image can controlled or quality picture can be improved.

  • […] may be apparent and when something is legible or viewable. While really geared at home viewing, this contains an oft referenced chart showing at least one perspective on the relationship of […]

  • tom48212 says:

    But what if your cable provider only broadcasts in 720P. Why be concerned with 1080P?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      If you never watch content with a resolution higher than 720p, there is no need for a TV with any higher resolution. Future upgrades by the cable provider, or Blu-ray, would be the only possible reasons for 1080p.

      • Tom says:

        Hi Carlotn, I read the above about distance for TVs and it is great! Couple questions, I am looking at purchasing a Panasonic 60″ ZT60, (The diagnol is 60.1″ according to Panasonic site) the above calculation says you should be 8ft or closer for full experience. If I am 10 feet is that still ok? Or 16ft away? What will I be losing as far as the experience? Just a little confused– Thanks

        • Jason says:

          At any distance more than 8 feet the resolution of your eyes cannot distinguish the difference between 1080 or 720. You must be at least 8 feet or closer to see 1080 discreetly over 720..

          • I fully respect Carlton’s bio-calculations. He correlates eye-resolution with the subtended viewing angle. The calculation yields the minimum screen resolution needed to satisfy the eye, taking into account screen size, resolution & distance.

            But, I respectfully take issue with the suggestion that anyone should invest in a 60 inch television (or monitor) without getting 1080p. After all, the cost difference is negligible (wait a few days for a sale price. Full HD is consumer mainstream. Any difference is negligible).

            If the eye cannot see the difference at 10 feet, then you might ask “Why should I care?”.

            Answer:
            (a) Sometimes, you may be closer than 10 feet
            (b) You might occasionally use the TV as a PC monitor
            (c) You may choose to sell or repurpose the TV in a world filled with QHD (4K) appliances.

            Consider all of these reasons. I am certain that you can think of others.

            Ellery Davies (Chief Editor, A Wild Duck)
            —Is 4K TV Relevant? http://awildduck.com/?p=2755
            —What about 3D TV? http://awildduck.com/?p=2703

          • Carlton Bale says:

            I agree, if the cost difference is negligible, go for higher resolution. With 4k, the price increase is currently a pretty substantial difference, and the benefit is probably not there for most viewers. I’d take a high-contrast OLED 1080P TV over a 4K LED TV any day. . .

  • terryeh says:

    4K (2160P) is simple. If you sit further away than the width of the screen; you have no chance what’s so ever, of benefiting from 4K .
    If your buying a 72″ (diagonal), which is 62.6″ wide you must sit closer than 62″ to it. When 4K hits your local cinema, sit in the first four rows and enjoy !?!?
    Yep, they think we’re stupid. But I hear the new 4K popcorn improves visual acuity.

  • Daniel says:

    I love sending people (and journalists!) here when they start raving about 4K and 8K entering the home market. As I always said, in order to benefit from it, first of all you would have to live in a huge mansion that can actually accomodate a screen size and comfortable viewing distance at which you can even see the difference. Especially with eyesight as mediocre as my own. The calculator is great for bringing people back down to earth. With a 50″ screen, which I think is already at the very upper limit for most regular living rooms, “for 8k (7680×4320) resolution, you must sit 2 feet or closer for full benefit”. I don’t think that’s what many people would call a comfortable setting.

    There was a quote about half a year ago from an executive at Sony, nicely exposing it for the eyewash it was. I’m not sure whether this individual wanted to say it the way he did, or whether he’s since been fired for it =) but asked by the interviewer for the reasons why 4K and 8K are pushed into the consumer market at this point in time, he replied that the market for Full HD and 3D TVs is nearly saturated and sales are down. In other words: they just needed something, *anything* to make people feel like their HDTV is already outdated again and they should get a new one.

    A fantastic website by the way, this is not the first time I have ended up here. Is that home theatre in the background yours?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Thanks Daniel. I agree, unless it’s a computer monitor, 4k and 8k are a waste. It’s funny that you mention Sony, because if you check out my similar post, it mentions the Sony 4K UHDTV product page confirming that very close seating distances are required. Kudos to the them for being so upfront about it. Too bad not every most other sources are not.

      Yes, that’s my home theater in the backgroud. It took a lot of work initially and we’ve spent a lot of time watching movies ever since.

    • I saw a documentary talking to a Japanese TV station that has prototype 8k displays. They were of the opinion that 4k was pointless, and that 8k was the future, BUT, they were also of the opinion that 8k displays would be wall-sized (Their prototypes were all something like 16 feet across or more), and wouldn’t be used for regular TV/Film use, but rather displaying footage where there is a good reason to walk right up to the display and look at things from close up. (Eg, touching distance, or the kind of distances computer displays are used at).
      This is a rather strange thing for a TV station to promote, but effectively what they’re talking about isn’t really TV as we currently understand the concept…

      • Carlton Bale says:

        Katrina, that is definitely an interesting use of 8k resolution and is completely appropriate. I can see this type of display being very useful in a broadcast studio/news room. Years in the future, flexible OLED displays that could be unrolled and hung on the wall could make this a reality.

  • Saurav Ghosh says:

    Wish I could have found this article earlier…..was going crazy to buy a TV and as I hate big TVs and people were forcing me to buy a huge one because they kept saying there won’t be any difference in 1080i picture quality for a TV as 32″. But if I read right, then if I maintain 4 feet (and that’s for 1080p, I am talking about ‘i’) distance then I will be able to see the difference! I don’t see a point to get a 39 or 42″!
    Am I wrong? If anyone is still reading this kindly reply, I would be very grateful.

    • Ritwick says:

      Yes, i think you are right. Keeping the proper distance from the screen, there would be a good difference for 32 inch displays for 1080p. The 5 inch smartphone-phablets have full hd displays, so what’s wrong with having full hd in a 32 inch ? (also keeping in mind the pixel density).

      • Saurav Ghosh says:

        Yeah, I know, I have a S4, but you know people keep saying whatever they want! They kept saying there won’t be any noticeable difference for any screen size below 42″! What can I say? I think I am going for the 32″, maybe I could consider a 39″, but no way a 42″.

  • gianne says:

    Hi there! Great site full of useful informations. I actually didn’t get one thing: let’s say i have a 1080p 50-inches display, according to the calculator I should sit at least at 7 feet away to see a difference with a 720p monitor and at 6,5 to get the best out of it. Now, I don’t get why it says 7 feet “or closer”, should not be a lower limit at which you actually resolve pixels so you have to sit farther? Is this limit 6,5 for the given example? Finally, does the benefit increase going up with screen size? Thanks in advance, and again great job!

  • john says:

    i sit abot 12′ feet from tv what size should i should i play lt video games

  • Viki says:

    Hi Carlton,

    If im understanding this right, then (according to the screen calculator above) @110″ diagonal, 720p can be enjoyed from between 14-21 feet with almost little or no perceivable difference from 1080p. Is this right ?

  • Carlton, you are the man! Thanks for laying this out in an easily understandable manner.

  • I love it…Thank you, Carlton! My admiration is a bit self serving. Your chart of screen size/viewing distance/resolution validates and ‘quantifies’ a claim that I have made at AWildDuck and LinkedIN forums. But, my assertion was subjective and not backed by the physiological data concerning the ability of the human eye to discriminate: a subtended angle of 1/60 degree.

    I am a resolution junkie, and yet I believe that consumer adoption of 4K is pointless. My argument is here: http://awildduck.com/?p=2755

  • chermits says:

    Carton,
    Great site. I am using a Sony 4k projector in a room that is 28 feet wide (screen wall) and 18 feet deep for seating. Would like to get two rows and the largest possible screen without having the front row to move their heads to watch the action. What is the widest screen size I can go with? Is 15 feet in 2:35 ration too wide if the front row were 15 feet away from screen?

    Avi

  • chermits says:

    Carton,
    Great site. I am using a Sony 4k projector in a room that is 28 feet wide (screen wall) and 18 feet deep for seating. Would like to get two rows and the largest possible screen without having the front row to move their heads to watch the action. What is the widest screen size I can go with? Is 15 feet in 2:35 ration too wide if the front row were 15 feet away from screen?

    Avi

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Avi, That’s an impressive setup! That screen size and viewing distance are fine as long as the projector is bright enough for a screen that big. The room will need to have total light control. From a resolution standpoint, you could even move the front row a bit closer, but I don’t see a huge need for that unless you needed more space in the back for the second row.

      FYI, if you’re using an anamorphic lens on a 16:9 projector, the resulting image aspect ratio will actually be 2.37:1 instead of the film standard of 2.35:1. If the screen is being custom made, I’d go for the 2.37:1 aspect ratio instead, but they are so close you’d be fine with either.

      • chermits says:

        Thanks Carlton and appreciate the heads up on 2.37 in anamorphic. I am thinking of getting the new Sony 4K projector VPLVW600ES. Trust that will work on a 15 foot wide screen for light output. Any specific recommendations for screen gain and brand.. Stewart tends to be quite expensive.

  • Bob says:

    Great site Carlton! I’ve referred a number of people to it who have questions about screen sizes/viewing distance, and some who are gung-ho for UHD with screens in the 50-60 inch range. Your chart really helps explain why UHD must be watched up close for much benefit.

    One of my pet peeves is at least a couple of manufactures are advertising UHD as having four times the “resolution” of HD when UHD is actually only twice HD’s resolution. A few have used words like “four times the clarity” and “four times the quality” which is ok, but being an engineer who specialized in photonics, saying the “resolution” is four times greater really rubs me the wrong way. Your chart makes it easy to show people that there’s only a factor of 2 involved between HD and UHD resolution.

  • mandy says:

    i have an older hitachi projection screen tv. it works great right up close too. I am concerned because i dont kno if the xbox one i got my son for christmas is gonna be compatible with it due to it only having hdmi connection and not coloreed wired connections. would it work with a hdmi to vga converter

  • […] an idea where everything will go, take those measurements too. Now, compare those measurements to this helpful TV viewing distance chart. It’ll show you where your optimal viewing distance is based on the type of video (720p, […]

  • […] an idea where everything will go, take those measurements too. Now, compare those measurements to this helpful TV viewing distance chart. It’ll show you where your optimal viewing distance is based on the type of video (720p, […]

  • […] an idea where everything will go, take those measurements too. Now, compare those measurements to this helpful TV viewing distance chart. It’ll show you where your optimal viewing distance is based on the type of video (720p, […]

  • […] an idea where everything will go, take those measurements too. Now, compare those measurements to this helpful TV viewing distance chart. It’ll show you where your optimal viewing distance is based on the type of video (720p, […]

  • […] an idea where everything will go, take those measurements too. Now, compare those measurements to this helpful TV viewing distance chart. It will show you where your optimal viewing distance is based on the type of video (720p, 1080p […]

  • Fredr says:

    you should show dot/pixel pitch vs view distance, too

  • […] an idea where everything will go, take those measurements too. Now, compare those measurements to this helpful TV viewing distance chart. It’ll show you where your optimal viewing distance is based on the type of video (720p, […]

  • Fernando Mariano says:

    Dear Carlton,

    I very much appreciate your advice. Congratulations for this great job. I am planning to replace my 60″ 1080p TV for a 65″ 4K TV. I learned from your points and calculations that the best viewing distance for this 65″ 4K would be 4 feet.

    The distance that I am currently from the 1080P is 12 feet. Unfortunately I have no way to move the sofa closer to the TV due the particular arrangements of my room. On the other side I am afraid that staying just 4 feet from a 65″ TV I will not be able to see the contents of a film in full – it seems that I would need to be moving my eyes left to right and right to left, which would be extremely annoying.

    Please let me know what would be the real scenario if I stay 12 feet away from a 65″ 4K TV.

    Many thanks for your kind reply.

    Warmest Regards,

    Fernando

  • […] first step to setting up a home theater is to measure the space. Use the measurements to calculate optimal viewing distance and other information needed to ensure best placement of […]

  • […] TV, you’ll need a 60-inch TV or bigger to see a improvement. And a over from a TV we sit, the bigger a TV we need in sequence for 4K to make a […]

  • […] need a 60-inch TV or bigger to see the improvement. And the farther from the TV you sit, the bigger the TV you need in order for 4K to make a […]

  • […] will you be sitting? Measure the distance between you and your TV and compare your results to this viewing distance chart. It’ll make sure you’re getting the best experience […]

  • Kevin says:

    I read somewhere that with Ultra HD screens the only way to get any significant benefit is to purchase one at least 75″.

    Is this true?

  • […] Worry not, remember whenever you see these screens in shops you are close to them, but when you chill out 3 meters away from your TV in the living room, you’ll need a 60-inch TV or bigger to see the betterment. In order to make a difference, the further from the TV you sit, the bigger the 4 TV you need. […]

  • chris says:

    I just ordered a screen research 4k screen, 145 x 81. Throw distance is 21′. Looking for a bright projector that can work with this screen. Its a dedicated theater and the seating is 10′, 16′, 20′.

    Thanks

  • […] Screen vs Viewing Distance vs Resolution. 10 feet ~ 3m. Source: CarltonBale.com […]

  • […] an idea where everything will go, take those measurements too. Now, compare those measurements to this helpful TV viewing distance chart. It’ll show you where your optimal viewing distance is based on the type of video (720p, […]

  • […] the same time, most evidence suggests the human eye cannot tell the difference between 720p and 1080p on a 40-inch television from more […]

  • […] 1080p Does Matter – Here’s When (Screen Size vs. Viewing Distance vs. Resolution) […]

  • RayArt says:

    Very interesting reading, i have been doing most things as natural as i can, what i mean to say is that i have tested a 23 inch computer monitor and a 32 inch lcd tv, now, with the 23 inch pc monitor i can sit at my pc desk and watch smalll windowed youtube videos and reading text and general web site viewing at 16 inches from the screen with general comfort. But if i game on the 23 inch monitor i naturally move back in my chair and have measured the distance that i naturally found comfortable viewing and that was 4 feet from the 23 inch (diagoanl) pc monitor, games just looked rough at 2 feet away even maxed out with gtx 780′s in sli. I also tested a 32 inch tv on my pc desk but the picture was even worse and the biggest discomfort was having the large 32 inch tv, simply too big, too in my face. I eneded up hanging the 32 inch tv on a wall at 8 feet away, the view distance was better because i didn’t have this great big huge tv in my face but i still feel as though i am not getting optimum 1080p viewing. Interesting stuff and there is without a doubt something right about lechner’s findings. I can’t find the middle ground so to speak, but it does look like that a 68 inch 1080p screen at around 9 feet away is that distance for optimal viewing comfort and full detail of hdtv. In my case the PC also has this problem, 4k sounds like it could be a visualualy pleasing affair but according to charts or calculations 1 feet from a 4k display would be an absolute horriffic experience.

  • Kontharo says:

    Would I be able to notice a difference between a 23.6″ and a 27″ pc monitor (both 1080p resolution) when my viewing distance is approximately between 3 and 3.3 feet?

    The two monitors have basically identically performing panels – the only real difference is the size.

    I’m worried that the pixel density of the 27″ monitor might be too low considering my viewing distance?

    Should it be possible to notice a difference in pixel density between the two monitors, if they are both viewed at the aforementioned distance?

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