What are suitable TV sizes and viewing distances for couch surfing on a 1080p LCD HDTV


The HTPC in my living room is the fastest/most modern PC I own. My current TV is a 24" tube TV, so I have to hook up a secondary monitor in order to read anything besides the menus in Windows Media Center, and that alone is kind of annoying. I'm also tired of having to sit on the floor to do any web browsing or reading on the PC, since there's no practical way to set up a computer desk over there.

I've seen charts on recommended TV sizes for various viewing distances, but those are all oriented toward home theater, not the ability to read web pages from a distance with little or no eye strain. I'm curious whether anyone has personally tried web browsing or coding on a 1080p TV from halfway across the room. If so, what size TV do you use, and how far away do you sit (from the screen to your eyeball)?

More specifically, is a 40" 1080p LCD HDTV adequate for web browsing, reading, and general-purpose computing while sitting 12-15 feet away? If not, do I need something bigger/need to move a little closer? What size and viewing distance should I be shooting for? Aside from resolution (I'm already settled on 1080p), are there any other factors that will make a noticeable difference in the TV's performance as a computer monitor?

I found a similar question, but it wasn't quite specific enough to answer my question: How functional/practical is it to use an hdtv as a computer monitor?

Best Answer

It would depend on your vision, but for me, 12 feet is way too far. I'm sitting about 2 feet from a "1080p" (OK, 1920x1200) 24-inch screen right now. Looks about right. So if the screen and pixels were twice as big, I could be twice as far back: 4 feet. To test it the other way, I also stood about 6 feet from this screen, and it was not comfortable reading at all.

That might even be a handy rule of thumb: for a 16:9-ish 1080p-ish screen, the viewing distance (for computer text like on a web page) is the same as the diagonal.

If you can't sit that close, some modern web browsers do a decent job zooming pages, and many programmers' editors allow you to choose the text size for the main editor (less so for the other on-screen tools). It seems counter-productive to reduce the desktop size to make the pixels larger: in this scenario, to double the viewing distance from 4 feet to 8 feet, you'd have to shrink the desktop from 1920x1080 to 960x540. Some dialog boxes get chopped off at 540.

You also want a TV that does (at least have the option for) "1:1 pixel mapping": i.e. each pixel generated by the video card -- connected digitally through DVI or HDMI or DisplayPort of course -- to be exactly one pixel on-screen. TVs are generally designed to crop off say 5% around the edges, called overscan, and zoom the picture slightly to fill the screen. That's because the edges are sometimes blank or have garbage pixels. Computers do not have this problem. Aside from the "slightly smudgy" pixels that result, the edges of a computer desktop often have critical things like taskbars and menus. To work around this, you can sometimes force the video card to shrink the desktop so that it fits inside the overscan, but that makes it even smaller.