Size up your TV screen Updated February 13, 2009
After you have your budget squared away, you need to decide how large of a screen you want. Usually, the largest screens cost the most, but regardless, the TV should deliver the right-size picture for where you'll sit relative to the screen. Sitting closer to a smaller TV means you won't have to spend as much on a big screen. But if you sit too close, the picture will look poor.
Nearly every TV sold these days is a wide-screen HDTV, so the chart below only applies to those sets. If you have a regular TV that's not wide screen, the rule of thumb is that you should sit no closer than twice the diagonal measurement in inches. Wide-screen televisions showing high-resolution DVD and HDTV look better than regular sets, allowing you to sit closer and experience a more immersive, theater-like picture.
With wide-screen sets showing DVD or HDTV, you can sit as close as 1.5 times the screen's diagonal measurement and still not notice much of a loss in quality, while sitting farther away than three times the screen size means you're likely to miss out on the immersive feel. Here's a rundown of minimum and maximum recommended viewing distances for wide-screen sets.
|16:9 TV diagonal screen size||Min. viewing distance (in feet)||Max. viewing distance (in feet)|
Generally, 30-inch and smaller sets are great for bedrooms or guest rooms but too small for the main living room. Sets with bigger screens are large enough for the whole family to enjoy and will probably be too much for most small bedrooms.
If you're mounting the set inside an entertainment center, be sure it fits in every dimension; also, leave a couple inches on all sides so that the TV has enough ventilation. If you're getting a bigger set, you may want to consider a dedicated stand. Many such stands also include space for your TV-related components, like cable boxes and DVD players.
CRT tube televisions are a dying breed, and new ones you'll see generally max out at 27 inches. Flat-panel LCDs can range anywhere from 5 inches to more than 100 inches diagonal; plasmas are between 32 and 103 inches; and rear-projection sets start at about 50 inches and go to as large as 73. These different TV types have their own strengths and drawbacks, which we detail in "Four styles of HDTV."