Where to Put the T.V. - The Final Answer


Congratulations on your new home! The one with the TV connections above the beautiful fireplace where you can see it from every corner in the great room. Awesome! And you braved all the long Christmas shopper lines at the super electronics store to finally upgrade your TV to the latest and greatest high definition, huge, flat screen TV. How neat!

Undoubtedly by now you have had a chance to curl up on the brand new sofa with the whole family, big bowls of popcorn drizzled with real butter of course, and your favorite hot cocoa to watch the latest Star Wars movie. And that new 7.1 surround sound system - amazing!

But for some reason, you have also been noticing that the picture really isn’t as clear as you thought it would be. Oh, and somehow your neck seems to be a little tight by the end of the evening. Hmmm. Could it be the new sofa? Could it be the settings on the TV? What happened to that “best seat in the house” feeling that you wanted so badly?


There truly is more to watching TV than meets the eye! There is actually a science to seeing and hearing your TV as well as an ergonomic factor to avoid excessive strain on your neck. Unfortunately, even the best interior designers and architects are oblivious to designing your space to ensure that all viewers in your media room can enjoy a truly immersive experience worth every dime that you spent on that fancy equipment.

I know the latest and greatest hot buttons in home design seem to be placing the TV above the fireplace with built-in speakers all around but, with few exceptions, that is probably the worst placement for several reasons. Not just for the viewing, sound and neck strain but think about the warm ascetics that the fireplace itself brings to your space that you always dreamed about. It’s so comforting and relaxing to sit by the fire with a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter night. There always seems to be a bit of a competition about which feature gives you the most pleasurable evening in your beautiful home. With just a few guidelines I think you can achieve the best of both worlds.

There are several key considerations when designing your media room as well as in selecting the best TV for the maximum bang for your buck. Several experts in the media industry agree. To reference the most significant resources, check out these recommendations from SMPTE (Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers), the THX certification standards as well as something called Visual Acuity. It’s not just about buying the biggest screen you can afford or simply because it is bigger than your older TV.

SMPTE recommends keeping the viewing distance set in such a way that the extreme ends of the width of the screen constitutes a minimum angle of 30 degrees at the viewer position, corresponding to a viewing distance of 1.87 times the screen width. So for a 50 inch screen keep it within 93.5 inches or 4.25 feet. This 30 degree viewing angle is accepted as basic for any home theater room design.

Then there is the THX certification standard. You will remember that name from the sound test at the beginning of some DVDs for adjusting your surround sound settings to blow you out of the room! They specify a range as opposed to a minimum angle. The closest  seating position should correspond to an angle of view that is more than 36 degrees and at least 26 degrees for the farthest seating positions. This translates to a TV viewing distance that varies between 2.17 and 1.54 times the width of the screen. Within these parameters the viewer will experience the most enjoyable, immersive viewing possible. Here are a couple of charts to help that I found on the TV Viewing Distance Guide online:


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The following table gives the recommended minimum and maximum viewing distance for different 1080p HDTV screen sizes:

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There are a couple other interesting graphs as well if you want to research further. The bottom line and simplest way to apply this is to remember the “2 - 5” principle: For optimum TV viewing distance, the nearest seating position should be limited to two times the screen width; the furthest seating position should be at maximum, five times the screen width.

So, if you were to wall mount an LCD or plasma TV over a fireplace and sit too close there is a real risk of approaching the recommended 35 degrees maximum vertical angle of view, which increases neck strain on the viewer. It’s not your sofa!

Lastly, and the most ergonomic and scientific of all, there is something known as Visual Acuity which considers your actual vision limitations. That is, how your eyes actually comprehend and process what they see in the pixels of the TV itself. Hold on to your science shorts here!  According to a TV Viewing Distance Guide website (Google it for more complete information), many consumers make the mistake of stopping at relating the TV screen size with the viewing distance. To yield a good seat, both SMPTE and THX specify a viewing angle or range. However, here is how the TV Viewing Distance Guide describes it in part:

“The issue with visual acuity does not deal with identifying the best viewing position for your screen size; rather, this dictates the maximum distance beyond which one will not be able to see all picture detail as a result of the limitations of one's eyesight. Visual acuity is by definition, a measure of the eye spatial resolving power; it specifies the 'angular size' of the smallest detail one's eyesight can resolve. A person with normal vision - often referred to as 20/20 (or 6/6 when expressed in meters), can resolve (comprehend) a spatial pattern where each element within the pattern subtends an angle of one minute of arc angle at the eye (i.e. 1/60th of a degree) when viewed at 20 feet, or 6 meters away. This represents the minimum angle of resolution (MAR). This means that a person with normal eyesight can see an object with a height of 1.77mm at 20 feet way. From a TV viewing distance perspective, visual acuity represents the distance beyond which some of the picture detail will no longer be resolved by one's vision system, as it will appear to blend with adjacent picture information. In practice, this implies that the smallest element comprising the image - the pixel - should have a size that is not smaller than 0.0698-inch when viewed from 20 feet away.”

Whoa! I know that’s a lot but I thought it was cool! Who would have thought about how our eyesight actually factors in with what we see on the screen? That’s why we are willing to pay such big bucks for all those pixels and stuff! So, it makes sense to totally consider the actual placement of the TV for achieving that ultimate viewing experience just like in the big movie theater where we always scramble to find the perfect seat with the best view and sound.

Who knew? Watching TV can be such a pain in the neck and totally spoil having a beautiful fireplace! Popcorn or hot cocoa…hmmm.

By: Marcy Willis, Interior Designer - Urbanata