Home Theater Calculator: Viewing Distance, Screen Size

Over the past several years, I’ve slowly constructed a spreadsheet to meet all of my home theater design needs. I noticed on various forums that others could probably benefit from this spreadsheet, so I cleaned it up and I’m now making it available to the public. Please download it and put it to good use!

The spreadsheet contains calculations for the following:

  • recommended viewing distances for a given screen size – for both flat panels and projectors (based on THX and SMPTE standards)
  • recommended viewing distances for a given display resolution – 480p, 720p, 1080p/1080i, 1440p, etc (based on Visual Acuity standards)
  • various screen aspect ratios (4:3, 16:9, 1.85:1, 2.35:1, custom ratios, etc.)
  • projector screen size & screen brightness with guidelines for recommended values (based on projector brightness and screen gain)
  • projector screen size & projector mounting location (based on min/max projector throw distances)
  • seat locations, a second row stadium seating platform height calculation, and a few other goodies.

Microsoft Excel Icon theater_calculator_v4.0.xls

Please report any problems or suggestions via e-mail or the comments form below.

Revision history:

  • Version 4.0 – 26-August-2008: Added Anamorphic (horizontal expansion) front projector lens option, which adjusts projector brightness and throw ratios when selected.
  • Version 3.7 – 14-June-2008: Clarified back row platform height input fields, modified formulas to prevent negative platform heights (user info message instead), changed spreadsheet defaults to better fit a typical home theater.
  • Version 3.6 – 21-July-2007: Added feature to allow calculation of Visual Acuity Viewing Distance based on eyesight of the viewer. The default is 20/20 vision; changing the input to 20/10 vision with show that the viewer will be able to spot resolution deficiencies at much greater distances due to more acute eyesight.
  • Version 3.5 – 20-July-2007: Fixed bug in the aspect ratio input that caused international users to have problems (problem was related to using “,” as decimal delimiter instead of “.”) Added cells to the far right of the spreadsheet to allow changing and adding custom screen aspect ratios.
  • Version 3.4 – 27-June-2007: Widened columns that were causing being truncated for international users.
  • Version 3.3 – 16-Feb-2007: Added 2.35:1 aspect ratio back.
  • Version 3.2 – 13-Feb-2007: Changed anamorphic aspect ratio from 2.35:1 to 2.370370:1, which is the correct value for a 16:9 projector with a 4:3 anamorphic lens. Corrected spelling mistakes on one of the extra tabs within the spreadsheet.
  • Version 3.1 – 15-Dec-2006: Fixed unit conversion formula that was causing “Second Row Field-of-View Width” to not calculate when any unit besides “inches” was selected.
  • Version 3.0 – 13-Dec-2006: Added minimum viewing distance calculation, added conditional feedback on seating distance for each specification (seating distance too far, etc.), added first row and second row seating distances (for conditional feedback on seating distances), added field-of-view results (in degrees), added ability to calculate projector throw distances for any screen size (just enter the throw information for one screen and it will interpolate for other screen sizes), fixed mis-spelling that was causing formulas to break.
  • Version 2.9 – 01-Dec-2006: Added 2.40:1, 2.70:1 screen aspect ratios, added ‘hover’ comments to better explain the different seating distances; added conditional formatting on the screen brightness result cell (red if brightness is too low, yellow if it is close to being too low).
  • Version 2.8 – 20-Nov-2006: Added charts for “seating distance vs. screen size based on screen resolution” and “seating distance vs. screen size based on published standards.”
  • Version 2.7 – 29-Sept-2006: Edited notes fields to improve clarity for data entry fields.
  • Version 2.6 – 09-May-2006: Added LCD/Plasma support. Added 16:10 aspect ratios for LCD monitors. Added hints to help enter panel resolutions (hint lists commons resolutions). Added pixel density calculation (useful when using as a PC monitor). Added dot pitch (in mm – millimeters). Added total pixel count. Fixed spelling errors.
  • Version 2.5 – 27-Nov-2004: Updated screen brightness calculation to adapt to entering screen width vs. height vs. diagonal measurement. Thanks Brad for finding the problem.
  • Version 2.4 – 01-Nov-2004: First Public Release. Uses both metric and English units. Converts between many units. Gives hints for some common input values such as aspect ratio. Seating distance. Platform height. Viewing angle. Screen brightness. Many other features.
Written by on 2006-Nov-11, Last updated on: 2006-November-11 in: |

319 Comments »

  • david weibel says:

    Hi Carlton. I’m building a house and have a sloped room that is 16 x 19wide above 7 feet, or 16 x 26wide if you use the whole room with 5ft to 10ft roof on both sides. I’m debating putting the screen on the long wall (with sloped sides to left and right) and having a very wide room, but wanted to get your opinion on going the other way to have a much longer room 16ft wide? would the sloped ceiling impact acoustics? and what height will the top of the screen need to be (assuming i will cut the room short before the 5ft height part)? Many thanks in advance

    • Carlton Bale says:

      David, having a sloped roof is actually good for acoustics. Ideally, you’d want none of the wall to be parallel with one another to minimize standing waves for lower frequency sounds. You really need to determine what you want seating and the screen size to be. Ideally, you want the vertical center of the screen at or just above eye level, which is generally lower on the wall than you might think, so it’s good to have a low ceiling above the screen to make the low mounting look more proportional on the wall. It sounds like the wider configuration would be better; it really depends on your concept for the second row of seating. Hope this helps. Enjoy your theater!

  • Sam Johnson says:

    Hi Carlton, I am building a dedicated theater room. The front row of seating will be a little over 14ft. from screen and the back row at 22ft. What size screen would you recommend? 90% of my viewing will be from the front row and I am a little concerned about “video fatigue” from sitting too close. Thanks!

  • sam9s says:

    This view distance calculator is so confusing ….there are so many viewing distances, which one it is actually …..Longest allowable viewing distances, longest recommended viewing distance, THX longest recommended distance, Shortest recommended viewing distance…..visual acuity viewing distance……so on and so forth ….. ……Which viewing distance to actually follow, can any one explain me in plain english for a 12×15 room 110″ screen full HD 3D projector, where should I place my first row.

  • Khalid says:

    Hi Carlton,
    Your excel sheet looks very helpful, but I wanted a sheet where I can enter the size of the room and work from there. I have a 4.9m x 7 m room. With plans to have the screen on one of the 4.9 m walls. My walls are 3 m high.
    I’m currently in the process of deciding where to raise the floor for the second row and by how much it should be raised. Kindly I need your help as my contractors are waiting and I’m stuck.
    I also need to know if I should go for 2 or 3 rows. Your help is much appreciated.

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Khalid, you really need to figure out your seating sizes and the space between the rows to see how many rows you can fit. If you have reclining chairs, you need more space for each row. A spreadsheet isn’t really going to help. In general, each row needs to be about 14 inches higher than the one in front of it. That makes 3rd rows pretty close to the ceiling.

      You definitely want carpet with thick padding underneath for the floor. I’m creating a new post on acoustic room treatments.

  • Khalid says:

    Carlton, as a follow up, what is the best flooring for home theater, wood, tiles, or carpet. And what is your recommendation regarding echo cancellation in a huge room like min 7m x 4.9m x 3 m height

  • Rajan says:

    Hi Carlton,

    I am planning to install HT in room – size 20x12x11 feet. I am planning for 2 rows with 7.2 speakers and 3d projector. What is the best size for projector screen and seating distance for two rows? Thanks

  • santosh says:

    Hi Carlton
    Planning a home theater 20′ 9″x13’7″x7’7″. first row seating 12 feet, 2nd row seating at 18 feet. is a 150 diagonal 2.35:1 screen( 120 diagonal 16:9 with blanking panels) the correct size

  • […] you want to be more accurate, this home theatre calculator is […]

  • Howard says:

    Hi Carlton,
    First off, thanks for sharing your calculator spreadsheet with us. It’s really a great resource tool. I am looking into purchasing my first projector system to replace a 50″ plasma. I am struggling with determining if my living room will have too much ambient light for daytime viewing. I am not able to eliminate a significant amount of daylight. Using the calculator yields a maximum screen brightness of 105 fL with a minimum 92″ screen. While this may be sufficient for daytime viewing, it is obviously too much for an evening when there is much less ambient light. I would appreciate hearing your, or others, experiences with designing a projector system with this ambient light challenge. I’ve even considered leaving the plasma up for daytime and lowering a screen for evening projector viewing. Looking at using a new Epson 5030UBe with a 1.1 gain screen. Thanks in advance. Howard S.

  • Dipankar says:

    Hi Carlton,
    I am really confused with the resolution of projector I should buy, as my viewing distance if around 18 ft and planing to have screen size of 110″ shall I go for 720P or 1080 will really make a big difference. Please advice I only use is to watch movies and most of them are dvd quality.
    Thanks

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Dipankar, if you are mostly watching DVD quality movies, 720p is all you need. Even with Blu-ray, you would only get a marginal benefit at that distance.

      • Dipankar says:

        Hi Carlton,
        Thanks a lot for your advise, I was also planning to buy Optoma GT760 720P, now one more thing I would like to check I have seen two LED model one LG PA80G 1000 Lumen (no 3d) and one merlin projector 720p and has built in 3d decoder so you can watch 3d movies through USB but the lumen is only 400 ( I have seen the demo and in full dark it is clear) pleas advise
        http://merlin-digital.com/pocket-projector-3d.html
        Thanks & Regard
        Dipankar

  • street0123 says:

    Fantastic work and the Excel spreadsheet is great, but I do have a question concerning the calculation of the Visual Acuity “Ideal” seating distance. I thought that projectors are normally 16:9 aspect ratio and project at a 1920×1080 resolution and I have read that you lose some of that resolution when you project a wider aspect ratio image? Is this true and if it is shouldn’t your formula adjust for the reduced pixels when you widen the aspect ratio from 16:9 when you calculate the Visual Acuity “Ideal” seating distance?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      The spreadsheet formulas compensate for this. There are 2 ways to project a wider aspect ratio image: 1) just use the center portion of a 1:78:1 screen and have black bars on the top and bottom (don’t use all of the pixels available) and 2) use an anamorphic lens to stretch the projected image to fit a 2:35:1 screen so that pixels become wider than they are tall and set the projector to anamorphic mode. Either way, the spreadsheet compensates. In case 1, the pixel size is the same, so it doesn’t change anything. In case 2, they spreadsheet adjusts the pixel width/height and uses the larger of the two dimensions.

  • Jay says:

    Hello Carlton
    I’m making a media room in my house and I want to know the dimensions needed ,my room is 460meters by 500 meters ,is it enough?
    Thanks

  • William Openheimer says:

    Wow… big room!

  • Dheeraj says:

    HI Carlton i am so confused…my room(tiled) is 14 feet x 9 feet x 10 feet(height)..and i am planning for a 720 p projector..can you help me with projector brands(any many wont be available in india)…and Hi-Fi systems to go along with it!! and what do i need to do with walls so that i get good sound quality total budget is around 100000 INR(approx 1600 US $) .THANKS .a reply would be kind.
    cheers

  • tnewcome says:

    Ok, I am confused as well, and just want to be sure I understand this. The room I have is 15’10” long, 12′ 10” wide. I am planning to buy the Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 8350 and project on a screen with at least a 1.8 gain screen. I think that the spreadsheet is confirming that I could comfortably seat 2 rows, 1 starting at 8 feet and the second at 12 feet on a riser using a screen that is 100, 110 or 120 on the diagonal.

    I’m really just trying to figure out the screen size I should get for the most enjoyable experience in both rows of the configuration. Is a 110 inch diagonal screen the ideal?

  • Madhu says:

    I would like to make a home theatre,i have a 40 inch led tv. and bose 5.1 home theatre soud systems.then what is the room dia is better for good effect.welcome your advice

  • Jim Bleke says:

    We have a dedicated media room with Dolby 7.1. The room has 15′ ceilings and our current projector is an Epson 8350. The screen is a solid 120″ with 1.1 gain. I am looking at the Epson 5030 and considering 144″ screen with 1.3 gain. The sound system is high end and some components only became available last March. What are your suggestions. We are in no hurray. Should we wait for 2015 models?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Jim, I don’t think the 8350 is a huge upgrade; it would be incremental. To be honest, I don’t know what’s coming out later this year. The release cycle and big feature jumps seem to have slowed down over the past 3 years. My guess is that resolution will increase, but that most of the other specs will not. With a 144″ screen, you could probably get some benefit from 4k, so maybe wait for that at CEDIA 2014, which I believe is in August/September.

      • sujit says:

        Hi carlton..
        My room is dark enough.
        I il use good quality projector.
        My room size is 40ft×22ft.
        I want around 15 to 25 recliner seats.
        So what size of screen should I prefer and frm where should I start 1st row?

        • sujit says:

          And my height of room is 13ft.

        • Carlton Bale says:

          Sujit, I can’t really offer any advise beyond what the output of the HT Calculator would yield. I suggest entering your room and projector details and sketching out the room to see how it meets your needs.

          • madhav kohlo says:

            Hi sujit , are you based in india ? If yes then get in touch with us we have been hi end av professionals fr abt 15years now and carry out design n execute …dedicated ht rooms.. Hence if u like you could get I. Touch with us my no. Is 9415434861, Madhav Kohli , http://www.we know audio.in

          • sumanth says:

            Carlton – My room is 15.7×13.5, may I know how big screen I can include, 2 sides of the wall is clipped ceiling.

  • Hemanth says:

    Hi Carlton,

    Thanks for helping others with the suggestions. I have a media room with the dimensions 19X15 and is open to the game room. Please see the link http://i62.tinypic.com/30kvfde.jpg.

    Can you please suggest me if I should use a projector or a TV. I wanted to have a big screen experience and I am not sure if I should chose a 70 inch TV or a big projector. As it is open can I use projector in that room? Also please suggest which should I use economically and big screen experience.

    Thanks,
    Hemanth.

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  • […] you’re wondering how large a screen you should purchase, bigger is always better. See my home theater calculator for […]

  • […] bright” without saying whether it is 1 inch or 1000 feet away from your eye. I used my home theater calculator to reverse-calculate the projector ANSI brightness (based on the screen the tester used) and posted […]

  • Reez hoq says:

    Hi
    I have just purchased Benq W1070 3D projector.Planing for 3D short animation films show for children in a park. I need some suggestion.
    1>will you please suggest me how many seat should I place(maximum)?
    2>according to seat number tell me the screen and room size?
    3>according to screen and room size, tell me the Ideal 3D viewing area in the room?

  • Victor Emanoel says:

    Using your calculator with the projector central. Substituting my old Sony VPL VW200 for one JVC DLA X700R.
    Now that I have 1300 lumens with the same 100″ 16:9 white screen with 1.0 gain, I need to replace my projector and sitting place inside my 5m x 3,4m room or do I need a new screen?
    Dedicated room with black walls and ceiling. No ambient light.

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