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 |

798 Comments »

  • Karen says:

    I have 9 feet distance, HD abilities, and can only fit a 32 inch tv, so I am ok with 720p. Correct? Thank you for your information- very well written and informative.

  • Courtney McLaury says:

    Ok, I too have a 720p Samsung and 60Hz, and I sit about 6 feet from the TV. Is there a significant difference on 60Hz and 120 Hz? The TVs that offer 1080p with 120 mH are often hundreds of dollars more. I have a one bedroom apartment and will likely never have high end tech equipment, but I still would like a nice picture.

    Thank you for your time.

    Courtney
    Houston, TX

    • Carlton Bale says:

      I think the 120 Hz refresh rate makes the picture look unnatural. I see no need for this feature. I’ve disabled it on my TV.

      • Courtney McLaury says:

        OK, cool, then you are in agreement that I have what is sufficient for my modest needs i.e. I sit six feet away from a 720p 32″ TV.

        Did not know you could disable the 120 Hz if you did have it, lol!

        Again, thank you for your time…

        Courtney in Houston

    • Vlad says:

      There is a huge improvement with 120hz, especially with simulated 240hz on many TVs. Some say it looks unnatural. In fact, 120hz makes it MORE natural. We are just so used to the unnatural, slow cinematic frame rate of 24p that anything faster looks camcorder-like. You get used to it and, in fact, you get lots of detail in movement that you don’t notice in 60hz TVs. I find it very realistic and engaging. After 120hz, I can’t stand how slow 60hz is. You notice it in the people’s subtle gestures, head movements and so on, as well as in large panoramic scenes. It’s amazing, and it’s where all TV is heading. Consumer camcorders can shoot 1000 frames per second, but we are still watching films at 24fps.

      • Carlton Bale says:

        The problem with 120 and 240 Hz frame rates is that is the source material is still 24 or 30 frames per second. The video processor has to guess what the additional frames in between would look like “in real life” and it often guesses wrong. At 240 Hz, the TV is guessing at/adding 3 additional frames for each original. It’s impossible to accurately create either more resolution or more frames than the original source material, especially given the high data rate of uncompressed HD video going into the HDMI input and the relatively low powered silicon within the TVs. There are test discs that show the inaccurate motion reproduction that occurs in the interpolated frames. It’s these interpolation errors that make the picture look unnatural. High frame rate source material will fix this; perhaps starting with The Hobbit being filmed at 48 frames per second.

  • Aaron says:

    Even with the LCD screens now using the LEDs it appears that the traditional advantages (deeper blacks, faster refresh rate) and disadvantages (tend to run hot, heavier, less energy efficient) seem to ring true. Tough to get past thinking 1080p is the way to go, but the price gaps have not narrowed as much between 720p and 1080p as you would have thought they would, and given I’ll be sitting about 10 feet from the screen if I get a flat-screen, I guess there’s really no advantage for me to go 1080p. Thanks for the info. No real questions here, I guess. Just going through it in my head to make sure I’m fully grasping things.

  • Courtney McLaury says:

    I have the new TV now, and I do notice the difference as my old TV was 1080p. For some reason, shows where the cast is mostly African American i.e. The Wire you can’t see them very well – they disappear into their own blackness. I guess it is a problem with shades of black…? Frustrating.

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Courtney, that problem can be solved by adjusting the picture settings. To get the best results, I suggest you use a calibration disc, such as Disney WOW or similar, as mentioned in the article above.

      • Courtney McLaury says:

        OK Mr. Bale, I will give that a try. Gritty dramas tend to be my favorite, so this problem is going to pop up again. Ho ho, now I have to figure out why the volume cuts out intermittently for seconds at a time. You would prolly tell me time to get a new TV, but I JUST got one. And it did this with the OLD TV! So maybe I need a new HDMI cord. Never do I feel more helpless when I stand before electronics…

  • Nick says:

    Thank you. You’re chart/calculator helped. But it told me for a 1080P 55 TV I need to be 7 feet or closer. How close should I sit from 7 feet until it becomes too close and I am seeing too much?

    Also what is the best veiwing distance for a passive 3DTV?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Nick, it’s hard to get too close (i.e. sitting in the front row of the IMAX would probably be too close, but not because of resolution issues.) For passive 3D, you basically get half the horizontal resolution to each eye, but the same vertical. So 1080p would look more like 720p.

  • John says:

    I currently have a 46 inch Panasonic plasma that’s now dead after a good 4.5 year run. Given that TVs are lower profile now (i.e., less space outside the edges of the viewable screen), how much bigger can I go without it becoming noticeably bigger? Will one of the current 55″ Panasonic TVs look a lot bigger, and is it worth the extra $150 to go from 50 to 55″?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      John, I went from a 5-year old thick, big boarder 46-inch CFL-backlight LCD to a new thin 55″ LED-backlight LCD and they look pretty much identical in size. The picture is bigger on the new TV, but when it’s off, the thin profile and boarder make it look less intrusive and noticeable.

  • Vlad says:

    I think this and most other “official” recommendations overestimate the size of TV needed. I was at a store and thought “50 is too big” from 8ft, while 46” is just right. I got greedy, bought the 50” anyway, and it was too big. Non-HD content quality really dropped, fast-moving scenes made me dizzy, and I wasn’t able to take in the full picture at that distance. Some slow-moving, panoramic shots are amazing on a large screen, but my eyes really felt strained compared to our 40” TV. When I moved back to 9′, experience was much improved. Unfortunately, I don’t have room to move further back. The closest estimates that were dead-on are from this installer: http://hdinstallers.com/calculator.htm They recommend you sit 11 feet from a 50” TV. From experience, I’d say 10′-11′ is ideal. However, I’d rather sit 7′-8′ away from a 46”. May return mine for smaller TV.

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Vlad, I respect your opinion; everyone is different. Please keep in mind that the very last row in any commercial movie theater would give a wider field-of-view than your are talking about for your setup, so you are definitely avoiding the movie theater setup/experience.

  • matt says:

    I know the whole resolution thing is played up too much and people care way too much about this sort of thing but i notice rather easily from 5 feet away if i’m watching 1080, 720 or 480.

    i just measured how far away i sit from a 40 inch tv… too close, i know, but it’s 40 inch. And my eyesight isn’t that good! I’m supposed to wear glasses.

    that said i’d probably be happy with a 36 inch or so, maybe 32… often 40 seems too big. I mean the prices are really going to have to drop for them to push 4k down at that size, although some consumers are already demanding nothing less than 2880×1800 because of Macbook Pros. Is it better to judge it by PPI? (or PPCM)

  • matt says:

    I think psychologically you adjust a little to whatever you’re viewing, like the distance. If you arrive late to a popular movie and have to sit in the front you’re initially annoyed with being unable to take it all in and seeing it up at an angle but you actually get pretty used to it towards the end of the movie. Same with sitting at the back and not feeling absorbed into it,.. your brain kind of puts you into the movie/character’s lives if you’re enjoying it and you forget about the space around.

    Also this is true with contrast/black levels/color settings/etc., as anyone knows who goes to a friends how and initially hates how bright or dark they got their TV, etc., or who spent too long configuring their own (you get to liking a certain setup only to realize the next day it was because you spent 2 hours trying to get it just right).

  • Kevin says:

    I have an average of a 10 foot veiwing, with 2 chairs that are about 8. I’m buying a 50inch TV but am stuck on if i should go 720 or 1080. I will mainly use the Tv for Videogames. Aslo, thinking of going with 600hz… any thoughts

  • nambuman says:

    Hello, I am considering either a 51″ or 60″ Samsung plasma TV. I sit between 8 and 9 feet away from the screen and will have the TV hooked up to HD cable. However, many of the channels are still not in HD. I noticed in the retail store that the 51″ plasmas looked “sharper” than the 60″ plasmas when viewing the same HD broadcast. In particular, when the image was shown in about 1/4 of the screen on either size plasmas, the image was even sharper. Could you provide guidance on the following two questions:
    1. At the viewing distance mentioned above, would you recommend the 60″ over the 51″ size TV…your calculator indicates this.
    2. Why would the smaller image in either screen appear even sharper? Is this due to the pixel size or number of pixels on the screen?
    Thanks

  • Chris says:

    I have a 43″ Plasma i sit five feet away is 720 okay?

  • Barry says:

    So a 720p at 112 feet is good to go. However is you are playing a blu-ray will there be any noticeable difference in quality versus 1080p or “true HD”?

  • Dean says:

    I am in the process of building a home, and sizing the theater. The space i have to work with is 13.8 width by 21ft in length, what would you recommend as the ideal configuration for optimal room size, screen size and rows of seats ?

  • Guillermo says:

    Hi if i sit +- 15 ft from my tv and i would like to enjoy 1080p tv. How many inches would my tv need? Or should i be looking for a HD projector?

  • p v narasimharao says:

    my roomsize is 13*9 . is there is any ill effects on eyes ,when viewed from 24 inch or 32 inch led tv

  • james rat says:

    Yes. You can get square eyes… [ ] _ [ ]

  • [...] An account of when 1080p does matter (vs. screen size vs. viewing distance) [...]

  • [...] setup, further elaborates the correlation between distance, screen size and resolution in this blog entry and how each aspect affects the viewing experience. And while he used TVs to illustrate how one can [...]

  • Ivan says:

    Hello Carlton
    The 1/60th degree of resolution is a measure of resolution, not of sharpness.
    The engineers and scientists from NHK in Japan have made experiments showing 8K footage at distances much further than 1/60th degree per pixel and the increased sharpness can still be perceived. I can’t remember the numbers right now.
    I saw the 8K footage in Amsterdam at the IBC in 2010 and 2011 and also at the NHK headquarters in Tokyo. The sharpness is absurd, no matters if you are further from the screen than you calculated in your post.
    My TV in the living room is a 50″ standing 10 feet away from my eyes, I can clearly see the difference between a 1080p and a 720p source, which would be impossible according to your calculations.
    I suggest you try the same, sit at 720p or even 480p distance of your calculations and watch sources at 480, 720 and 1080. You will for sure see the difference.

    • Neo says:

      It’s true that 1 arc minute is the 20/20 visual acuity resolving power. The calculations are probably based on intrinsic resolution of the signal, IOW, assuming 100% (read: magically) perfect video scaler. It doesn’t exist.

      When you’re feeding a 720p signal to a 1080p TV (native res), no matter how realistically efficient the video scaler is, it’s probably going to introduce upscaling artifacts. The same is true for a 480p signal to a 720p TV (native res). So, unless you match the native resolution of the TV to the signal, it’s apples vs oranges. IOW, when you’re sitting 10′ away from your 1080p TV, no matter what resolution the source feed is, you’re seeing it as 1080p (as it’s upscaled to fill the screen), only that the detail is lost to extrapolation. The same thing applies to NHK’s 8K. No wonder they were able to see ‘difference’, because no scaler as of today can replicate reality perfectly.

    • Neo says:

      We’re essentially introducing a variable in the form of native resolution, when comparing 480/720/1080 etc, in the context of visual acuity (1 arc-minute for 20/20). So any difference we perceive is as a result of less than perfect upscaling. So, don’t go by the calculations as a hard & fast rule. It’s just a guide.

  • [...] setup, further elaborates the correlation between distance, screen size and resolution in this blog entry and how each aspect affects the viewing experience. And while he used TVs to illustrate how one can [...]

  • [...] home theater enthusiast worked up some charts showing the distances at which viewers need to sit in order to get the full benefit of the higher [...]

  • dank says:

    This is a great article, but I have to take issue with the premise that there is such a thing as an objectively proper viewing distance. There isn’t, no matter how many leaflets you get from THX. I realize that lots of folks like to watch enormous screens from very close, and I’m not going to speculate on the reasons why, except to say that I don’t think it’s always 100% driven by a careful assessment of what creates the most enjoyable viewing experience. I personally happen to enjoy a somewhat narrower viewing angle, a personal preference that is based on what creates the best subjective experience for me, and not on any industry group’s notion of what’s “proper.” As it happens, this means I get virtually no benefit from 1080p over 720p.

    It would also be helpful to remember that the effective resolution of a video signal is typically less than the nominal resolution. You may be playing a blu-ray disc on a 1080p TV, but that doesn’t guarantee that there’s meaningful information in your video signal beyond what you would have gotten with a 720p signal.

  • Mihai says:

    This article and chart is based on average visual acuity 20/20. But what scores and chart is for people like me with 2 times better visual acuity 20/10 than average ?

  • Troy Dodson says:

    The result states “or closer”. But I have read and been told that sitting to close will cause head aches. If you sit too close and the entire TV picture cannot be resolved in your vision space, then your eyes will subconsciously shift very quickly from right to left to take in the entire picture. This results in eye strain and then head aches. Should there not also be a “too close” Thoughts?

  • Carlton Bale says:

    If you look at my Home Theater Calculator, this is considered. But for all practical purposes, you have to be extremely close to be “too close”. Think about how close you sit to a computer monitor and if you’d ever wished you were farther away… You peripheral field of view is quite wide.

    • Ian McKenzie says:

      Hi Carlton, thanks for the chart. I presume that your chart is based on static images of varying resolutions since at the date of posting 4k screens capable of showing 4k film/video content did not exist, as far as I am aware.
      Could you conform this please?
      Many thanks, Ian.

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Ian, it’s not based on static images. It’s based on pixel density and distance. A 42″ 1080p TV has the exact same pixel density as an 84″ 4k TV (it’s basically 4 42″ TVs on the same piece of glass.) So it linearly scales across screen sizes and/or resolutions.

  • ronald says:

    thanks for your reply..
    One last question I have tv room, I want to buy a 55 inch do I get a LCD, LED, or a Plasma? What type 60hz 120 hz or 720p or 1080p very confused

  • Sandeep Upendran says:

    I am planning to buy a 50″ plasma. WIth a vieing distance ranging from 8-15 feet, wat would be a better choice, HD Ready or a Full HD…?

  • [続きを読む]…

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

  • [...] and where in your living room you plan to put your TV. The farther back you sit from your set, the less your eyes are able to tell the difference between 1080p and 720p. If you’re sitting really close to your set, 60" may be simply too large for your eyes [...]

  • [...] watch and where in your vital room we devise to put your TV. The over behind we lay from your set, the reduction your eyes are means to tell a disproportion between 1080p and 720p. If you’re sitting unequivocally tighten to your set, 60″ competence be simply too vast [...]

  • [...] and where in your living room you plan to put your TV. The farther back you sit from your set, the less your eyes are able to tell the difference between 1080p and 720p. If you’re sitting really close to your set, 60″ may be simply too large for your eyes [...]

  • [...] and where in your living room you plan to put your TV. The farther back you sit from your set, the less your eyes are able to tell the difference between 1080p and 720p. If you’re sitting really close to your set, a 60-inch may be simply too large for your eyes [...]

  • Ants says:

    I’m planning to buy a 51″ Plasma TV, 768p. And my current viewing set-up is that the viewing couch is 6 feet away from the wall which i’m planning to mount the TV. So am I ok with the 768p, 51″ Plasma TV? Thanks.

  • Drew Ruggles says:

    It might already be posted but do you have the equation for “viewing distance when resolution becomes noticeable”? Thank you in advance.

    Drew.

    • Carlton Bale says:

      I don’t recall the specific equation, but it’s basic trigonometry. It’s a triangle with the angle between adjacent and hypotenuse = 1/60th of a degree.

      • ranjit says:

        Hi
        Struggling to decide between last years 55″LM670V and this years 47″ LA 620V. Will be using it in a country with limited HD and hardly any 3D content. The Room is not too big, viewing distance about 7-9 ft. I’m wondering whether the 55″ is overkill for watching non HD content. And is the additional processing power, NFC + mircast and other features worth the difference in size? Cant go for plasma because of the high altitude, frequent shift of locale, and bright ambient conditions. Budget is a factor, and the 47″ is 15% cheaper. However, I still remember getting my last TV, a 32″ samsung home, and immediately wishing that I had shelled out some more and bought a bigger one!

        HELP!!

  • [...] watch and where in your vital room we devise to put your TV. The over behind we lay from your set, the reduction your eyes are means to tell a disproportion between 1080p and 720p. If you’re sitting unequivocally tighten to your set, a 60-inch competence be simply too vast for [...]

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