Optimum HDTV viewing distance

Optimum HDTV viewing distance

Optimum HDTV viewing distance is the distance that provides the viewer with the optimum immersive visual HDTV experience. Although opinions vary on the exact screen size to distance relationship, formal research and recommendations suggest closer is preferred to further[not in citation given], to provide a more immersive experience.[1][2] How close? “As close as you can stand it”.[dubious ][3]

Home Theater oriented room



HDTV is designed to provide the end user with an experience that is more realistic than the mediated experience of the television system it’s designed to replace.[4] The “thrilling realism”[5] that HDTV attempts to offer, is courtesy of the increased resolution and the fact that the sets are typically larger than the analog sets they are supplanting. This increase in the typical size of an HDTV set also increases the visual angle from which that content is viewed. Both of these factors, higher resolution and greater visual angle contribute to the feeling of presence.[6][7] Thus the correct viewing distance is critical to the enjoyment of HDTV in the manner intended.


The concept of presence has been defined as the “sensation of reality”, of “being there” and as “an illusion of nonmediation”.[6] The concept of presence originated and was studied with regard to Virtual Reality (VR) and other 3D environments. It was later established that television viewers can also experience that feeling of presence.[6] Presence can be influenced by a number of factors, including video camera techniques, audio fidelity, visual and aural dimensionality, and most relevant to this topic, image size (visual angle) and quality (angular resolution).[8][9]

Visual angle

The ideal optimum viewing distance is affected by the horizontal angle viewed by the camera capturing the image. One concept of an ideal optimal viewing distance places the viewer at a point where the horizontal angle subtended by the screen is the same as the horizontal angle captured by the camera. If this is the case, the angular relationships, perceived by the viewer, of objects viewed on the screen would be identical to the angular relationships viewed by the camera.

If the angle captured by the camera was always the same, an optimal viewing distance could be easily calculated. However the horizontal angle captured by the camera varies as the focal length of the camera lens changes. If the sensor has fixed dimensions, a shorter focal length (wide angle) lens captures a wider angle of view requiring the viewer to sit closer to the screen. Conversely a longer focal length (telephoto) lens captures a narrower angle of view demanding a more distant viewer position.

The more distant position demanded by a telephoto view would negate the reason for a telephoto image in the first place, to see more detail of a distant object, or perhaps minimize the distortion in facial images, for example. A wide angle view might require the viewer to sit too close to the screen, at a point where undesirable image artifacts would be visible.

One compromise assumes that the lens is "standard", a 50mm focal length in the case of a standard 35mm format. A "standard" lens preserves the same spacial relationships as perceived by a spectator at the camera location. For a "standard" lens image, the viewer should be placed a viewing distance equal to the diagonal length of the screen in the case of a projected standard 35mm image.

Horizontal, vertical and diagonal field of view

It has been demonstrated that viewing content on a display that occupies a greater visual angle (also referred to as field-of-view), increases the feeling of presence.[8] More importantly, the wider visual angle (to approximately a plateau point of 80 degrees) the greater the feeling of presence.[10][11]

Angular resolution

With printed graphics, resolution refers the number of pixels that occupy some fixed linear measurement.[12] With HDTV, resolution refers to image resolution and is not tied to a linear measurement. Instead, it is measured in terms of the physical display, (the total count of pixels available (or used) to compose the displayed image).[10] Generally, with printed graphics when the resolution of an image is increased, the image is cleaner, crisper and more detailed.[12] The caveat is, the image will not appear cleaner, crisper and more detailed, if the increase in resolution and the accompanying detail exceeds the visual system of the observer. If you exceed the viewer’s visual system, there will be no perceived gain in image quality. For an HDTV image to gain a qualitative increase, what is important is that the resolution per degree of arc (or angular resolution) increases, not just the total pixel count of the display.[10]


To maximize the feeling of presence and thus provide a better viewing experience, the viewer would need to be situated at the theoretical spot where the HDTV occupies the widest view angle for that viewer[dubious ]. It is also important that the resolution of the display per degree of arc remain at a high quality level.[1] Opinions regarding where the nirvana position lies are numerous and varied.

Recommendations on HTDV viewing distances fall into two general classes; a fixed distance based on HDTV display size, or a range of distances based on the display size. The most common recommendations from reasonably authoritative sources are presented below.

Fixed distance

Fixed distance recommendations are the more common of the two types. For the most part, the majority of the fixed distance recommendations were issued before the end of 2007, when arguably HDTV displays were still in the early adoption phase.[13][14] The most frequently cited fixed distance recommendations are listed.

Diagonal measurement × 2.5 (corresponding to 20-degree viewing angle)

One of the more popular recommendations on the proper HDTV viewing distance is multiply the diagonal measurement of the display screen by 2.5. This recommendation is cited by television manufacturers,[15] retailers,[16] respected publications[17][18] and websites,[19] though the popular electronics review website CNET suggests that high-resolution content can be watched at a closer distance - 1.5 times the display screen's diagonal measurement (corresponding to 32 degree viewing angle).[20]

30-degree viewing angle

Viewing an HDTV from a position where the display occupies a 30 degree field of view is widely quoted as the SMPTE (or SMPTE 30) recommendation (equivalent to about 1.6263 times the screen size in a 16:9 TV). This recommendation is very popular with the home theater enthusiast community,[21][22] appears in books on home theater design,[23] and is also supported by a white paper produced by Fujitsu.[24] Although an article on research into setting the specification for the next evolution of HDTV, Ultra HDTV (or UHDTV), does support the premise that HDTV was optimized for a view angle of 30 degrees,[10] there seems to be no direct recommendation from SMPTE on the issue.

THX – 40-degree viewing angle

THX recommends that the “best seat-to-screen distance” is one where the view angle approximates 40 degrees,[25] (the actual angle is 40.04 degrees).[3] Their recommendation was originally presented at the 2006 CES show, and was stated as being the theoretical maximum horizontal view angle, based on average human vision.[26] In the opinion of THX the location where the display is viewed at a 40 degree view angle provides the most “immersive cinematic experience”,[25] all other things considered. For consumer application of their recommendations, THX recommends dividing the diagonal screen measurement by .84 to calculate the optimum viewing distance, for a 1080p resolution.[25]

Optimum ranges

Stating optimum viewing distance as a range rather than as fixed distance is on the rise; possibly because of changes in the profile of the typical HDTV purchaser. Early adopters of HDTV were typically videophiles,[27] the technically adventurous[28] and the sports enthusiast[29] looking to have the ultimate viewing experience. Today, the typical HDTV consumer’s aims may be a little more modest; total immersion takes a back seat to room integration.[30][31] Major retail chains like Best Buy that once stated their recommendation as a fixed distance,[16] are starting to provide range recommendations.[32] Manufacturers have also joined the stampede to range recommendations, updating their website with small applications that demote the optimum viewing distance as a range of distances.[33][34][35] THX in March 2009, added range recommendations to their website.[25] The minimum end of the range tends to be the proponent’s fixed optimum distance recommendation.

Manufacturers' recommendations

Range recommendations from manufacturers are the most modest of the groupings. For the minimum (or nearest) viewing distance, they recommend a view angle of approximately 31 degrees; and for the maximum, a view angle as low as 10 degrees.[33][34] A 10 degree view angle is approximately the angle that NTSC television was typically viewed from.[36]

Screen Size Recommended Range
22" 3'0" – 8'4" (0.9 – 2.5 m)
26" 3'5" – 9'10" (1.0 – 3.0 m)
32" 4'4" – 12'1" (1.3 – 3.7 m)
40" 5'4" – 15'1" (1.6 – 4.6 m)
42" 5'5" – 15'10" (1.7 – 4.8 m)
52" 6'0" – 17'0" (1.8 – 5.2 m)
Screen Size Recommended Range
19" 2.5' – 8.0' (0.7 – 2.4 m)
22" 3.0' – 9.0' (0.9 – 2.7 m)
26" 3.5' – 10.5' (1.0 – 3.1 m)
32" 4.0' – 13.0' (1.2 – 4.0 m)
37" 4.5' – 15.0' (1.3 – 4.6 m)
40" 5.0' – 16.5' (1.5 – 5.0 m)
42" 5.5' – 17.5' (1.6 – 5.3 m)
46" 6.0' – 19.0' (1.8 – 5.8 m)
52" 6.5' – 21.5' (1.9 – 6.5 m)

Retail recommendations

The recommendations currently posted on the websites of retailers Best Buy and Crutchfield take more of a middle ground. Both retailers post a minimum viewing distance that accommodates a view angle of just a little over 32 degrees on average.[32][37] This viewing distance approximates the view angle needed to be able to see pixel level detail. The maximum viewing distance will provide a viewing angle of approximately 16 degrees with Best Buy’s recommendation and approximately 20 degrees with Crutchfield’s. The maximum viewing distance (minimum viewing angle) provided by Best Buy aligns with vision theory on the highest spatial frequencies perceivable by the human visual system.[38] Crutchfield’s maximum viewing distance aligns with the lower boundaries where viewers typically begin to find HDTV immersive.[10]

Screen Size Recommended Range
26" 3.3' – 6.5'
30" 3.8' – 7.6'
34" 4.3' – 8.5'
42" 5.3' – 10.5'
46" 5.8' – 11.5'
50" 6.3' – 12.5'
55" 6.8' – 12.8'
60" 7.5' – 15.0'
65" 8.1' – 16.3'
Screen Size Recommended Range
26" 3.25' – 5.5' (1.0 m – 1.7 m)
32" 4.0' – 6.66' (1.2 m – 2.0 m)
37" 4.63' – 7.71' (1.4 m – 2.4 m)
40" 5.0' – 8.33' (1.5 m – 2.5 m)
42" 5.25' – 8.75' (1.6 m – 2.7 m)
46" 5.75' – 9.5' (1.7 m – 2.9 m)
50" 6.25' – 10.5' (1.9 m – 3.2 m)
52" 6.5' – 10.8' (2.0 m – 3.3 m)
55" 6.9' – 11.5' (2.1 m – 3.5 m)
58" 7.25' – 12.0' (2.2 m – 3.7 m)
65" 8.13' – 13.5' (2.5 m – 4.1 m)
70" 8.75' – 14.75' (2.7 m – 4.5 m)

THX ranges

While THX still contends that the optimum viewing distance is a position where the display occupies a 40 degree view angle for the viewer, they too provide a range recommendation. The minimum viewing distance is set to approximate a 40 degree view angle, and the maximum viewing distance is set to approximate 28 degrees.[25]

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)

Factors influencing the calculations

Each recommendation serves the underlying goal of the organization that proposes it. Manufacturers will have an easier time selling their HDTVs if they support a position that does not require consumers to purchase as large a set as required by the THX recommendations. In the absence of economic influences, calculating the best screen size to distance ratio that will produce the utmost feeling of presence is not at all straightforward. There are a number of factors that can affect the calculation including the limitations of the human visual system,[10] the technological limitations of HDTV displays,[1] human physiological considerations,[10] the content that will be viewed,[8] and the interpretation of empirical data from formal testing. There is also the fact that the screen image is on a flat plane and not curved. Perhaps the biggest of these are uncertainties surrounding the limits of the human visual system, and how those limitations apply to what we see and perceive.

Human visual system limitation

The human visual system has a fixed capacity to detect detail from a distance. Our understanding of limitations with regard to visual detail recognition and identification from a distance is primarily based on the work of Dr. Hermann Snellen. Dr. Snellen developed the eye examination chart that bears his name (Snellen Chart). From his findings and the work of others over the last hundred years, one arcminute is seen as the threshold beyond which critical detail cannot be identified,[39] by a person with normal vision.[40][41][42] An arcminute is an angular measurement, which is equal to 1/60 of one degree of a circle. Normal vision is referenced as 20/20 or 6/6 vision in North America and Europe respectively.[42][43] The visual acuity threshold has been identified as a constraint factor in the recommendations on the optimum viewing distance for HDTV,[36] and also in formal research that comment on the subject of television and angular resolution.[1][44][45][46] With 1 arcminute as the constraint for seeing critical detail, in order not to miss any detail a viewer would need to be situated at a position where their view angle to a 1080p HDTV is approximately 32.86 degrees or greater.[1][3] However, there is not always agreement that the Snellenian limit should be the constraining factor.

To calculate the viewing distance, based on display size and content resolution, the following formula may be used:

\textrm{VD}=\frac{\textrm{DS}}{\sqrt{\left(\frac{\textrm{NHR}}{\textrm{NVR}}\right)^2+1} \cdot \textrm{CVR} \cdot \tan{\frac{1}{60}}}
VD: Viewing distance
DS: Display's diagonal size
NHR: Display's native horizontal resolution (in pixels)
NVR: Display's native vertical resolution (in pixels)
CVR: Vertical resolution of the video being displayed (in pixels)
Note: Make sure the angle mode is set to degrees when calculating the tangent. If using Excel, you must multiply the angle by PI()/180. If DS is given in inches, VD will be in inches. If VD in meters is desired, multiply VD by 2.54 and divide by 100.
Example for DVD video on a 32-inch 1080p HDTV:

\textrm{VD}=\frac{\textrm{32}}{\sqrt{\left(\frac{\textrm{1920}}{\textrm{1080}}\right)^2+1} \cdot \textrm{480} \cdot \tan{\frac{1}{60}}}=112.36 (inches)

Example for high-def video on a 32-inch 1080p HDTV:

\textrm{VD}=\frac{\textrm{32}}{\sqrt{\left(\frac{\textrm{1920}}{\textrm{1080}}\right)^2+1} \cdot \textrm{1080} \cdot \tan{\frac{1}{60}}}=49.94 (inches)

This is the maximum sitting distance if the viewer wants to see every possible detail the content has to offer.

A 1998 Sun Microsystems paper on the limits of human vision and video display systems uses a different constraint value of approximately ½ an arc minute (or 30 arc seconds), when estimating the saturation point for the human visual system.[38] With 30 arc seconds as the constraint, the view angle necessary to see all the detail provided by an HDTV with a 1080p resolution drops to approximately 16.1 degrees. Furthermore, several academic articles have challenged the notion that 1 arcminute of resolution is the typical resolving power of the human eye, suggesting that on average, we can resolve detail smaller than that.[43][47] Also, there is the issue of vernier acuity, which is the eye’s ability to detect an offset between 2 lines and stereoacuity, which is the ability to discriminate depth by the use of both eyes. Vernier acuity and stereoacuity are cited as being detected with only a 2-4 arc second degree of separation.[48] Ultimately all of the various types of acuity play a part in how we see things and more importantly, how we perceive what we are witnessing. The complexities of the human visual system and the relationship between different types of acuity are not yet fully understood.[48] Thus, depending on which human visual system constraints are applied, viewing angles calculations will vary to some degree, especially when technological constraints are factored in.

Technology limitations

Magnification of the pixel grid
This example shows an image with a portion greatly enlarged, in which the individual pixels are rendered as little squares that can easily be seen.

Blindly applying the principles that give rise to an increased sense of presence can put the viewer too close to the display. Viewing the display from too close can have an adverse effect, due to the limitations of technology. Get too close to an LCD or plasma HDTV display when it is turned off and the construction of the pixel grid is very evident. Unfortunately, turning the display on doesn’t completely mask the pixel grid. If you are still too close to the set, it will look like you’re viewing the display through a screen door.[45][49] Even if you use a different HDTV display technology such as front or rear projection DLP, LCoS, or laser TV, the manner in which HDTV display images are rendered still constrains how close a viewer can be to an HDTV before they experience adverse effects. HDTV displays have a fixed maximum resolution; the images produced by the display consist of rows and columns of pixels, the same way that a computer bitmap (also known as raster) graphic is produced. Having a fixed number of pixels is where the problem lies; the image is a mosaic of colored 4 sided pixels. Viewed from far enough away, the pixels blend together to create a complete and smooth image.[12] As you get closer to the HDTV image, you will eventually reach a point where image pixelation happens and the blocky appearance of individual pixels becomes visible.[1] When the blocky nature of individual pixels starts to become evident, the overall image begins to lose its smoothness. Once this happens, the perceived quality of the displayed images drops, and the advantages of moving closer produces unfavourable effects.

Even if the unknowns about human vision are eliminated from the equation, calculating the point where pixels will begin to reveal their blocky nature is still not straight forward. The pixel geometry can vary to some degree, both in shape and in the spaces between each pixel (referred to as the inter-pixel spacing or inter-pixel gap).[36] This variability, which differs both by technology and individual models makes it dicey to establish the exact common point where pixel geometry will become the limiting factor.

Human physiological considerations

Research conducted on presence with HDTV and other higher resolution formats that use a wide field display, has revealed that sometimes the feeling of presence can be too real, producing physiological effect that some viewers may find undesirable. Subjects have reported experiencing an increase in symptoms that are common to motion sickness when viewing strong visual stimuli on large screens.[10] A study conducted using virtual reality simulation as part of the experiment, found that subjects with lower visual acuity experienced significantly more of the symptoms associated with motion sickness. Furthermore, the study also found that the symptoms of motion sickness increased when subjects observed the visual stimuli without the aid of their glass or contact lenses.[50] Consequently, optimum viewing distance recommendations based solely on human visual system and technological limitations may not always produce the best viewing experience. Viewers with lower visual acuity, who prefer to watch HDTV without their corrective lenses will need to sit closer see critical details, run the risk of undesirable side effects.

End-user content selection

Although studies show the feeling of presence and image size are directly correlated, calculating the size to viewing distance relationship may not be a necessary exercise for all consumers. A 1997 study, which hypothesized that increases in screen size would give rise to increased feelings of presence, found that the content was more important than the screen size. The findings were that for commercials, action-adventure and reality programming an increase in the feeling of presence did correlate with increased size. The researcher attributed these findings to the fact that the aforementioned content contained scenes that were shot with a point of view camera, scenes with sudden movements and shorter shots. Conversely, for programming consisting of talk shows and drama programs changing the screen size had no effect on the feeling of presence.[51]

See also


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