Monday, October 20, 2014

Facing The Big Screen TV

Once the 19” tube-based color TV was the king, having passed the smaller black and white models that sat inside cabinets to try and make them seem bigger than they were. As the TV got larger, the technology had to change because tube’s are heavy:  hence the flat panel appeared. But while the size of the TV has steadily increased, the decision as to where to sit facing it seems to have stayed in quicksand. You don’t sit in the same place when facing a 40” HDTV as you do when facing a 60”. The reasons aren’t about esthetics, where to place the couch so it looks the best facing the TV, but as to where those viewing the TV will be properly placed to enjoy what is being seen.

There’s a number of reasons why people instinctively have put themselves farther away from the TV than necessary: the old canard about the TV being harmful if seated too close has no bearing in the flat-panel displays of today, but the thought holds on. More realistic is that the father away one is from the TV, the less chance there is of someone who isn’t seated dead center being forced to look at the TV at an angle. This most often happens when it’s a couch that is facing the TV. Early on, flat panel TVs didn’t handle illuminating the display evenly, and those looking at an angle would see a less bright image than those facing it straight on. The same applied to the colors being displayed. This is less likely to occur with the modern HDTVs and 4K TVs than previously: with new breeds of TVs like those using Organic LED (OLED) in the display rooting the image evenly and colorfully for all those watching — even those looking at a decided angle.

So let’s figure it out with a typical scenario, but first stipulate two basic rules: 1)the TV should be at about eye level also to be viewed at its best, although some compromise might be needed if such a placement relative to a person seated seems to low, and 2)there should be some ambient light playing in the room, best if hitting the wall by/behind the TV — rather than being totally dark.

We’ll use the living room as our example: where the TV is placed against a wall or at least near it with those watching most likely be seated on a couch facing it or have chairs by the couch also. While the visual angle of view is increased due to the TV size, the goal is to be facing it so that you’re close enough to see what is being displayed with clarity, both from your eyes as well as from what the TV is able to output — but without any eye-strain.

A popular recommendation is to multiple the diagonal measurement of the TV’s display by 2.5 and so use that distance as the yardstick between the TV and where the viewer is placed. Other recommendations are based on the viewing angle, a 30% viewing angle would require multiplying by 1.6, while for 40%, the THX group says multiply the diagonal screen measurement by 1.2 to get the optimal viewing distance for a 1080p resolution. Calculators make this easy (probably have one on your smartphone), but for the actual distance consider getting one of those cloth yardsticks or a tape measurer. Or if you want a more general rule, seating should be about 1/2-2 1/2 X the display’s diagonal.

But size alone isn’t the only definer for where to sit,  a 4K Ultra HD TV can be the same size as that of a HDTV, but the higher resolution comes into play here. The 4K TV has denser pixels and, as a result, this means a “tighter” pattern to the image when closer. That’s why so many people stick their faces right up against a 4K TV, only to find that a blurring and indistinct pixel pattern can’t be seen. So, in general when dealing with a 4K display, expect to be a bit closer so you can take advantage of seeing all the fine detail being displayed.

Being at the proper distance to the TV will increase the feeling of “presence” and create a more immersive experience for those watching. This can be helped along by those TVs that have a curved display, but even such sets need to be at the proper distance in order to perform well. The best thing about all this is that your eyes are the best judge of what looks good, to you. That’s what is the most important and through a bit of careful planning and yes, a little hard work of pushing things around, enjoying the best picture your big screen TV can display will be yours.


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