Projectors vs. Fixed Displays – Resolution and Viewing Distance

In the days before remote controls were commonplace, circa 1980, children sat within arms length of the TV so that they could quickly change the channel by hand upon the command of their caregivers and older siblings. During this time, a generation of American’s learned that being 6-inches away from the TV was an appropriate viewing distance. After the remote became ubiquitous, however, parents began telling their children they were sitting too close to the TV – and thusly – the concept of viewing distance was invented.

Ok, that’s not exactly true. But back when a “big screen TV” was 16-inches with 525 lines of interlaced resolution, you could be as close to your TV as you wanted and still have a pretty fuzzy image. In fact, getting too close allowed viewers to see more flaws.

Today, however, there is a wide range of affordable big fixed-screen HD (1080p) and UHD (4K) displays and video projectors. One criticism of these new UHD displays – if too good is a criticism – is that as resolutions have climbed from 1080p to 4k (with 8k on the horizon) the picture improvements are hardly noticeable.

For example, if you’re choosing between a 1080p and a 4K 55-inch display for your space, you won’t notice the added detail of 4K unless you’re within five feet of the image. Check out the chart below from CartonBale.com (an independent tech guy) to see what we’re talking about.

display resolution and seating distance

“…What the chart shows is that, for a 84-inch screen, 4k resolution isn’t fully apparent until you are at least 5.5 feet or closer to the screen. For a “tiny” 55-inch screen, you’ll need to be 3.5 feet or closer… research by Bernard Lechner (former VP of RCA Laboratories) found the average viewing distance of American TV viewers is 9 feet. This is substantially farther than the 5.5 ft. distance required to fully resolve normal-sized 4k screens.”

As Carlton Bale points out, most people prefer not to sit within five feet of their TV, just as they don’t typically choose to sit in the first row at an IMAX theater. What’s the worst that can happen if you sit too close? Well, depending on what you’re viewing you might suffer bit of motion sickness, headaches, neck cramps, or other general discomfort. These are coincidentally the same things my mom complains about when I take her to a 3D movie

So, you can go one of two ways with this information:

  1. Save money – Don’t buy a display or projector with a resolution higher than you need for your space.
  2. Go big – Get the size image you need to enjoy UHD resolution – immerse yourself in awesome images.

The choice is yours to make.

OUR TAKE

As resolutions keep climbing, the best way to enjoy them is with an image large enough to show them off. If you’d rather wait to take full advantage of UHD we understand. If want to have the best available today, we understand that too. But from our point of view, if you want to get the best and truly enjoy it, you should seriously consider a 4k projector.

Quick Tip: Make sure you have access to true 4K content to get the best quality. Streaming content won’t typically stream to 4K without a premium added to the service. Remember we had a similar situation with 1080p content just a few years ago and the industry quickly caught up with that. Expect the same kind of progress in the coming years for 4k. And keep expecting improvements until we finally have our holodecks.

For example these are viewing range recommendations from two different sources:
THX
Screen Size Recommended Range
35″ 3.5′ – 5.0′ (1.0 – 1.5 m)
40″ 4.0′ – 6.0′ (1.2 – 1.8 m)
50″ 5′ – 7.5′ (1.5 – 2.2 m)
60″ 6.0′ – 9.0′ (1.8 – 2.7 m)
Toshiba
Screen Size Recommended Range
40″ 4.0’ – 6.3’ (1.22 – 1.92 m)
42″ 4.2’ – 6.7’ (1.28 – 2.04 m)
50″ 5.0’ – 7.9’ (1.52 – 2.41)
60″ 6.5′ – 10.3′ (1.98 – 3.14 m)

We thought it made sense to share a bit more about emerging new standards for “viewing distance” so that you can be sure you’re watching screens from a ‘science-y’ smart distance. So let’s talk a little about what the AV community recommends for the distance between you and your screen these days. We won’t get into all the different theories on specifically why the viewing distances are suggested (you can read more on that here). We’ll just share the key points so you can make a wise buying decision when purchasing a display for a particular space.