Building Your Own Home Theater
Evan Powell



Choosing the Right Size Screen

If you read the previous article on screen aspect ratios, you know that your choice of aspect ratio is a vital decision in setting up your home theater. However, you can't make a final decision on aspect ratio without also determining your screen's optimal size, and your desired viewing distance from it.

If you have not set up a home theater before, it is easy to make one of two mistakes--either you go with a screen that is too small, or a screen that is too large. If you choose a screen that is too small, it's not a critical mistake. Assuming your room could accommodate it, you will just find yourself wishing the picture was bigger from time to time.

However, going with a screen that is too large can be a serious headache, literally. Over a long period of viewing time, a screen that is too large for the viewing distance will produce eyestrain, fatigue, headaches, and a desire to take breaks or stop watching the picture. The last thing you want is to get weary of your own home theater because you overdid the screen size.

Now here is one of the most important points to be made in this article:

The optimum screen size and viewing distance
for your theater depends on the aspect ratio you choose.

Let's focus on this for a moment. Say you choose to go with an 8-foot wide 2.4 Cinemascope screen. You will find that you can sit closer to it without getting eyestrain than you can if you go with a 16:9 screen of the same width. Why? The 16:9 screen has more surface area, more vertical height--35% more to be exact. So the eyes need to work harder to absorb everything on that larger screen.

To compensate for this, most people will instinctively want to sit back another couple of feet in viewing distance. For example, if you are comfortable sitting ten feet from an 8-foot wide 2.4 screen, you will probably have a similar comfort level (as far as eyestrain is concerned) sitting twelve feet from an 8-foot wide 16:9 screen.

Therefore, the potential viewing distance you have available is an important key to the puzzle. That means the ideal screen size depends not only on the width of the room, but the depth of the room. In many rooms it is easy to install a screen that fills the full width of the wall, or at least 90% of it, only to find that the room is not deep enough to position the seating comfortably for long term viewing.

With this as a preamble, let's go to Part 2 and focus on just how big your screen should actually be.


Reader Comments(8 comments)

Posted Jul 23, 2014 6:58:07 PM

By Don

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I gained a lot from this article. I remember reading the 1.5x calculation elsewhere, but this article provided significantly more information. THANK YOU.

Posted Mar 15, 2014 11:32:40 PM

By Ice_iphoneprojectorguide

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Thanks for the valuable information on the screen size. I think many people will be benefited when they read the article.

Posted Mar 16, 2013 1:15:43 PM

By Ravi Shastri

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Dear sir, I need a high and big lenth viewd project for small level picture hall. My requirments is 20 fits and above large display for picture show and complet rectengular size viewd pitures.Please provide me the details of projector with picture and price details.

Posted Feb 21, 2012 6:23:14 AM

By Larry301

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I have a different rule when it comes to screen size. I like the size at the theater sitting in the middle but the picture is really bad! I sit close to the rear and get a big jump in picture quality. Same is true at home. A 120 inch may be a nice size but will allways look bad. A 100 inch will look 10 times better! We need 4k with a 4k source on Imax film! My biggest fear is digital cameras. When film dies {WE ARE DONE]

Posted Aug 13, 2011 2:06:55 PM

By Jeff

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Long ago when I was dreaming up my home theater I got the same result in a different way. I sat in my favorite spot in the theater (almost dead center left-to-right but up a couple of rows) and stuck my arms out in front of my body. I extended my thumbs and pinky fingers out as far as they'd go and touched my thumbs together. Looking at the screen, my pinkie fingertips marked the left and right side of the screen. From then on whenever I've set up a big-screen TV (and now as I'm building my theater) I've used that reference to determine the optimum viewing angle.

Posted Jul 20, 2011 9:28:20 AM

By Esther

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does this actually work? that would be much much simpler!

Posted Nov 12, 2010 1:14:50 PM

By Matthieu

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That is exatly what I'm doing when I'm sitting in a theatre. The same way I choose the size of my screen at home.

Never thought other people would have that same idea as a real tip for everyone to follow.

Posted Nov 11, 2010 11:33:57 AM

By Ray Kirk

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A MUCH easier method, given adequate room size, is to go to your local movie theatre, watch a movie from a location that you deem ideal, and carry a pair of glasses (sun, reading, etc.,. it doesn't matter). Put on the glasses for a moment during the movie, and, without moving your head, note the locations on the upper rim of the glasses where the left and right borders of the screen intersect the rims. Then, go home, put on the glasses and have someone stand where the screen will go. Have them hold a broom and move to the left and right and note the spots where the broom handle intersects the rims. VOILA! You have now reproduced the movie theatre experience in your viewing room!

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