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Picking the right size screen for your home theater can depend on several factors, and getting the right size will make a big difference to your viewing experience.
I found the best screen size for my home theater through a process of trial and error, but knowing the most common sizes can be handy when it comes to choosing one.
In this article I cover the most common screen sizes, for both TVs and projectors, and offer some advice on how to choose the best one for your home theater.
Ultimately, I’d recommend deciding on your screen size before buying the rest of your equipment, as it’s best to build around this. Most of the advice is transferable between the two technologies, but there are also plenty of specifics included.
The Most Common Projector Screen Sizes
Most people will probably be choosing a TV for their home theater, but there are a lucky few out there who can upgrade to a projector and screen. If you are one of them, then I suggest you check out my favorite projectors which have been tested in realistic environments.
Projectors are definitely worth using if you want the ultimate cinema experience, and allow you to go much, much bigger with your screen size.
Projector screens will generally range from 80” to 150”, but can come much bigger.
As you can see, projectors basically take up where TVs start to drop off, as once you get to these kind of sizes, TVs become both expensive and difficult to use.
The rule here, much like with TVs, is to work out things like your viewing distance, needs, and budget. Along with screen size, it’s worth also considering the type of material you buy, as this can make a difference too.
Choosing a screen size is probably the easiest part of switching to a projector, but make sure you consider the following things to make the right decision.
How To Choose The Right Projector Screen Size
Unlike TVs, which cast their own image on their own screen, projectors require a separate screen to cast them image on to. For this reason, getting the right material is key, and is not much different from TV screen technology. The two important things to consider when choosing screen material are gain and viewing angle.
In this context, gain can be defined as the amount of light a screen reflects back at the viewer. For example, a screen with a gain of 1 reflects 100% of the light back at the viewer with no loss of brightness. A gain measurement greater than 1 means the image is reflected brighter than the original, and less than 1 means it’s darker than the original.
- Higher gain is more useful in rooms with lots of ambient light, in which the image benefits from being brighter.
- However, this is usually regarded with rooms like auditoriums and meeting rooms as having high ambient light, and so your home theater is probably considered on the darker end of the scale.
- Most screens reflect light at a perpendicular angle, meaning sitting directly in front offers the best picture, and being at an angle can result in a washed out image.
Similarly, the color of the material has a big impact on image quality. White screens are better for brightness, but gray screens produce better dark tones. A gray screen with a gain of 1 will be better than a white screen because it’ll offer deeper blacks and better contrast.
- Gray screens control ambient light better, and reflect less light than white ones.
- Gray screens do need more powerful (and therefore generally more expensive) projectors.
- I find that gray screens are a better all-round choice if you can afford a more powerful projector.
You can also use the wall of your room for a projector screen. The image quality of a premium screen can be achieved with the right type of paint. I have created a guide on this which will help you choose the best type and color of paint for a projector screen depending on your requirements. Check it out!
The introduction of high definition TVs was an interesting time for tech-heads because several were unleashed on the world, and many people struggled to know the difference. However, this has now realistically been reduced to one (1080p), with 4K fast becoming the future of resolution.
Resolution is the same for projector screens and TVs, so this information will be applicable to both.
But first, what do we mean by resolution?
Essentially, resolution refers to the amount of pixels found in the TV screen. As a general rule, higher resolution means more pixels, which means a more dynamic and clear picture. Screen resolution details are presented as the amount of pixels on the horizontal and vertical axes of the screen.
For example, 1080p screens are 1920 x 1080, which is 1920 pixels on the horizontal axis, and 1080 on the vertical axis. This results in around 2.07 million pixels across the whole screen. 1080p is the most common native resolution for modern TVs, and is now also the standard resolution for TV and film media.
4K on the other hand, is 4 times the resolution of 1080p screens (or twice the line resolution), meaning it has 3840 x 2160 pixels in its screen. This is the native resolution of cinema media, and offers an incredibly clear picture, even compared to 1080p. 4K is definitely heralded as the future of at-home screen resolution.
So how does this relate to screen size?
The link is quite simple actually: screens, regardless of size, will always have the same amount of pixels in them. This means that a 15” and an 85” screen will both have 2.07 million pixels if their native resolution is 1080p.
Essentially, this translates to a loss of picture clarity when it comes to bigger screens if using 1080p. 4K however, gives you access to almost perfect picture quality on even massive projector screens. 1080p looks fine on TVs up to around 65”, but after that 4K becomes the resolution of choice.
So to boil it down:
1080p will be fine as a standard and affordable option, particularly for TVs, but if you’re going for a large projector or want to future proof your home theater system, choose 4K. It might be more expensive, but it’ll be worth the investment if you’re going for a big screen.
Format, like with TVs, is an important factor, and is essentially the projector version of resolution. As a general rule, HD and 4K resolutions will be available in all formats, but some are designed specifically for viewing media, whereas others are designed for things like presentations and work documents.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll only discuss the ones relevant to our needs. Also, there’s a table included with each format to give a rough breakdown of image sizes at the most common screen sizes. This should hopefully give you a better idea of which screen size is going to be best.
This is the standard format for HD media, and means the screen has a width to height ratio of 16:9.
This format offers the right resolution and formatting for normal widescreen home media, such as films and TV, and is probably going to be the best choice for your home theater needs. 16:9 format screens come with a native resolution of either 4K or 1080p, but can also support 720p HD media too.
HD Format (16:9)
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16:10 format screens are essentially a wider screen format of “standard” widescreen, and are mainly designed for use with ultra widescreen computers.
It’s less likely that you’ll be working with this format in your home theater, but it is becoming an increasingly common option in home media centers. If, for example, you’re going to be connecting your projector to your computer instead of your DVD player, then this would be the right format for you.
This format is probably going to be the least common because most media is now produced in widescreen, and 4:3 is the format for original TV media, but it’s also still in use for many computer monitors.
It would be useful to have a projector than can offer this resolution if you believe you’re going to be watching plenty of old TV shows, or will be connecting your older computer to the projector.
Video Format (4:3)
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Format doesn’t really have a massive impact on screen size, as you should be able to find various sizes available in almost all formats. However, I think it’s useful to know what the common formats are to help point you in the right direction when it comes to choosing one. For the most part, 16:9 will be the best for your needs.
Viewing distance becomes slightly more complex when it comes to projectors because you have to factor in both aspect ratio and screen size. There are plenty of calculators available online that will make the job much easier, but bear in mind that projectors obviously need more space, simply because they’re using bigger technology.
That said, you can usually sit proportionately closer to a projector screen than you can a TV. Using a projector results in fewer issues with pixel clarity, and the fact that projectors are available in 4K resolution means you can get some amazing quality images in your home theater.
Putting This All Together
I feel that choosing the right projector and screen is harder than choosing a TV, mainly because you have 2 separate bits of tech to choose before you even get started on resolutions and aspect ratios. However, my general advice is as follows:
- Don’t bother looking at projector screens under 100”. Anything less than this and you might as well choose a TV instead.
- Consider the convenience of a TV compared to a projector. What’s more, will your projector be installed or mobile? A movable projector comes with its own range of problems, such as setting it up every time you move it.
- Projectors for gaming will offer different benefits to projectors for viewing. As with TVs, manufacturers should provide this information, but you’ll want to consider contrast ratios, reaction times, etc.
- Most importantly, consider your budget. Projectors can be very expensive bits of kit, so you need to be serious about your home theater system before buying one. There isn’t as big a resale market for projectors as there is for TVs.
- On the other hand, a projector will completely transform your viewing experience, and give you the ultimate cinema feel.
- Projectors are realistically only suitable for large home theater rooms. I wouldn’t bother setting one up in a normal family living space, but they’re ideal for custom home theater rooms.
The Most Common TV Screen Sizes
I imagine most people reading this have probably bought a TV at some point in their lives, but this doesn’t always mean that people have a good idea of the size of the industry. Since the introduction of flat screen technology, manufacturers have been far less restricted in what they can do, which has led to much bigger TVs.
The most common TV screen sizes you’ll find on the market are:
You can find TVs that actually go much bigger than this, but you’d have to start looking for specialist manufacturers, and they can start getting very expensive. Plus, if you want to go any bigger than this, it probably makes sense to invest in a projector instead.
TVs are measured on their diagonal axis across the screen, so the size in inches measures from a top corner to the opposite bottom corner. This isn’t really necessary to know when choosing the right screen size, but it’s worth bearing in mind for when it actually comes to installing the TV in your home theater.
You can also get TVs smaller than 32”, but I wouldn’t bother for a home theater. In fact, I wouldn’t consider going any smaller than 40”, because the purpose of a home theater is to improve a normal at-home viewing experience, and to make it as immersive as possible. A small TV won’t allow you to do this.
It’s also worth considering other factors, such as brand, screen technology, and resolution. I’ll cover most of these in more detail when discussing how to choose the best screen for your needs, but it’s worth knowing the following basic bits of information:
- I don’t really find brand makes much difference. Some people may love owning a piece of tech from their favorite brand, but I’ve found that some “off” brands make TVs that are just as good, and are often much cheaper.
- Resolution will have a big impact on screen size, as higher resolution screens can produce clearer pictures at much bigger sizes. HD is the standard nowadays, but you should also consider 4K.
- Bigger TVs will obviously be more expensive than smaller ones. More than anything, work within your budget, and remember that you’ve got plenty more equipment to buy for your home theater.
- That said, the TV is probably the most important part of a home theater. Find the right balance between cost (and therefore quality) and what you’re actually going to be viewing on it.
How To Choose The Right TV For Your Home Theater
Buying a TV isn’t as simple as going out and picking one, particularly when it comes to a home theater. You want a TV that’s going to deliver the picture quality you want, but that’s also versatile enough to serve your home theater. These are the main factors you should consider when choosing the right TV:
- What you’re going to be using it for
- Screen technology
- Viewing distance
This might seem like it’s already getting quite complicated considering you’re just buying a TV, but knowing the answers to these points will really help you make the right decision. I’ve broken them down into a bit more information below. But before that, watch the video below as a preview.
Screen technology can be broken down into 3 main categories: plasma, LCD, and LED (or OLED). There are some other types of display available, but these are the most common and probably the ones you’re going to be choosing between.
So what are the differences, and which is best?
- Plasma works along similar lines to fluorescent light bulbs (weirdly) in that neon-xenon gas is electrically charged during viewing, and produces colors to light the screen.
- Although these aren’t really made any more, you might still find some on the market.
- Plasma TVs have a viewing life of between 30,000 and 60,000 hours, over which time they’ll lose around 50% of their brightness.
- Plasma produces deeper blacks than LCD technology, and generally have better color depth and range.
- However, they’re also more prone to screen burn, which is when an image sticks on the screen and leaves an imprint behind.
- They’re not suitable for brightly lit rooms because they can’t handle glare as well.
- Plasma doesn’t support 4K technology.
- LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display, and is the technology commonly used in computer screens.
- LCD screens have a longer viewing life and have less problem with glare in brightly lit rooms.
- They don’t consume as much power as plasma TVs and are available in much larger screen sizes.
- LCD TVs usually come with a native resolution of 1080p, but are capable of handling 4K too.
- However, LCD TVs have a lower contrast ratio and don’t produce as deep black tones. As a result, the picture can look more “wiped” than a plasma or LED TV.
- They don’t suffer from screen burn like plasma, but pixels can stop working, which gives unsightly black spots on the screen. This is unavoidable, and there’s very little that can be done.
LED and OLED
- LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, and is an old, but incredibly versatile technology. LED screens need a backlight to illuminate the pixels.
- OLED is very similar, but uses organic compounds (that’s what the O stands for), which means they don’t need a backlight.
- LED screens have a good picture quality and contrast ratio, but OLEDs are superior still.
- In OLED screens, each pixel has the potential to produce its own light, which means contrast ratios are as high as possible. You won’t find better blacks than on an OLED TV.
- OLED technology has resulted in thinner, lighter, more energy efficient TVs compared to any other screen technology. They also offer wider viewing angles than traditional LED screens.
- However, one of the main issues is that the organic compounds are susceptible to color loss over time, leading to a loss of brightness and contrast. This does take quite a while though.
- Both LED and OLED are susceptible to screen burns, and this is worse in OLED screens.
Also read: LED projector vs LED TV
So, which screen type is best for a home theater?
I swear by OLED screens, and have done almost since they were released. I’ve owned each other type of screen at some point, and OLED definitely produces the best contrast ratio and the deepest blacks.
However, if you’re on a tighter budget, LCD is also a good choice. Both LCD and LED are cheaper options, but it does result in a slight loss of quality. If you’re wanting to go really big with your TV, then stick to OLED wherever possible. OLED is also great for 4K, and allows you to really get the most out of your media.
What You’re Using It For
Choosing the right TV goes beyond just screen size, and obviously use is probably the most important thing to consider. This covers more than just “for watching” because some TVs will be more suitable for things than others. Consider the following points when choosing your new TV:
- If you’re going to be watching mostly dark, gritty dramas (looking at you Game of Thrones) then maybe choose an OLED TV of at least 40”. This will give you the best blacks and contrast ratio.
- On the other hand, if you’re going to be watching lots of sports, choose a TV that’s nice and bright, and produces good colors. LED or LCD screens around 50” are probably your best bet here, as these will allow you to see players in better detail.
- If you’re going to be doing lots of gaming, you need a screen that’s reactive and has excellent contrast ratios. Again, OLED screens will be your friend here, and should be at least 40”.
- Smart TVs might seem tempting if you’re going to be streaming, but I wouldn’t bother. There are plenty of ways to access streaming services, and you’re paying out for something that’s not really worth it. Apple TV and Google Chromecast are much cheaper and easier to use.
There are plenty of TVs that are adaptable and can be used as good all-rounders. Many manufacturers should supply this information, and many retailers will train their staff to know the answers to these questions. However, if you don’t want to get too deep into it, I’d recommend choosing an OLED TV that’s at least 40” because this should cover all your needs.
Viewing distance is another important factor to consider when choosing the right screen size for your home theater. This basically refers to the recommended distance between the TV screen and your viewing area in order for you to have the best viewing experience.
The actual methodology behind working this out requires calculations and knowing things like viewing angles and the eye’s field of vision. The easiest way to work this out is to use the screen size, but the basic formula is simple enough for you to do it the other way around.
Don’t want to get into the hassle of calculations? Check out this article where I have listed all the recommended viewing distances for the most common screen sizes.
There are plenty of different formulas to follow, but the most widely accepted is to take your screen size and multiply it by 2-2.5 to get your viewing distance. This is recommended for 1080p screens. As an example, if your screen is 50” across, then you can sit a minimum of 100” (8 feet) away.
Resolution does impact this however, because higher resolution screens allow you to sit closer without losing any picture quality. For this reason, if you buy a 4K TV, then you can sit between 1 and 1.5 times the size away. For example, for the same 50” TV in 4K resolution, you only need to sit 50” (4 feet) away.
Ultimately, this means that 4K TVs might be a better investment for smaller rooms because you don’t need as much distance between you and the screen.
Putting This All Together
How do you use all of this to choose the right TV screen size for your needs?
Well, I’d recommend starting with 2 pieces of information: your intended purpose, and the size of your room. These will essentially help you figure out all the other important deciding factors for choosing the right screen size.
I feel it’s worth stressing again: don’t bother choosing a TV smaller than 40” across. Anything smaller will hinder your viewing experience, and considering you’re trying to replicate a cinema, this isn’t what you really want. If a lack of space is a concern for you, as you can see there are definitely ways around it to still get a good viewing experience.
Choosing the right size TV or projector screen is obviously quite a personal thing. However, there are plenty of general rules you can follow to work out what size is right for you.
The most important thing I’d recommend is start with your intended use and then work from there. This will allow you to make the most educated decision, and will ultimately impact all other decisions you make about the right TV for your home theater.
After all, this is probably the most important decision you’ll make about the entire project, so you might as well put some thought into it.
Thanks for reading! Before you go, check out my recommended equipment for home theater.