Choosing the right HDTV

Man in field with TVThere’s an overweight, pimply kid at Best Buy who wants to sell you an HDTV. Moreover, he wants to talk to you about HDTVs, 7.1 Dolby surround sound systems, Klipsch home theater speakers, and probably his Star Wars collection if there’s time. He’s going to dazzle you with techno-babble, spouting such things as contrast ratio, “true” versus perceived widescreen resolution, LCD this and plasma that, HDMI what?, cables and ports and doodads and whistles. And if you’re not sold by then, it comes with a stand!

I’m here to help you wade through all that technical jargon, make sense of the things that really matter when choosing the right HDTV (hint: it’s in the eye of the beholder), and help you not sound like a jackass when you finally walk into Best Buy to drop some Benjamins. More than a few Benjamins, in fact. Somewhere between four and thirty-two of them, Mr. Moneybags.

HDTV buying factors

There are really only two determining factors when buying an HDTV:

1. The distance from your couch to your (new HD)TV.
2. Your budget.

Viewing distance considerations

Your viewing distance will determine what resolution (i.e. 720p or 1080i/p) your eyes will even be able to detect.

Have you ever been admiring all the shiny things in the electronics department and noticed the HDTVs don’t look all that “high def?” In fact, they probably look like crap! Aside from typical TV snow that happens from bad coaxial connections (a common culprit when many display televisions are spliced off the same cable source in stores), think back and remember about how far you were standing from aforementioned HDTV when you remarked on it’s picture quality (or lack thereof). You were probably only standing a few feet away, right? Staring intensely at every pixel, trying to get a grasp of all the detail the commercials have been promising? You were standing too damn close.

Measure from the couch to your HDTV

Your first step is to measure the distance from where you plan on having your HDTV to the couch (or chair or jacuzzi or whatever the hell). Now take a look at the chart below and find that distance on the vertical axis.

Visible Resolution limits (logarithmic scale)

Your next step is to move horizontally along that line until you intersect with your desired HDTV size. You have one in mind, right? I know you do. Where does that point intersect? (The only two curves you need to worry about are light blue (720p HDTV) and green (1080i/p HDTV).)

A personal example

I’ll use my own requirements as an example. The distance from my entertainment center to my chair is 10 feet. My budget was $1000 and I had my heart set on a 42″ 1080p HDTV. So, with that information. I moved up the vertical axis to 10 then across the horizontal axis until it intersected with my desired screen size. Once I found that point, I could then determine what resolution I would need by seeing which resolution fell below that point. Hence, a 42″ HDTV being viewed at 10 feet could either have 720p or 1080i/p resolution.

Differences between 1080i/p and 720p

But what’s the big difference between the two resolutions, you ask? A 1080i/p HDTV is about $300 more than it’s 720p counterpart of equal size, which could be better spent on Coronas or lap dances if you ask me. To make a long story not even remotely shorter, I settled on a Westinghouse 32″ 720p LCD. It was a size familiar to my old 36″ tube TV and saved me almost $500 over a 42″.

Key points to remember

The key point to remember is if your intersecting point falls above the light blue 720p curve, then 720p is all the resolution detail you need! Your eyes won’t be able tell the difference. But if your intersecting point falls between the light blue 720p curve and the 1080i/p green curve (meaning it’s below 720p but above 1080i/p), you need to buy an HDTV with 1080i/p resolution.

Please direct questions through post comments.


  1. Maxing Out Resolution: Optimize Your Seating Distance for Your Screen Size and Resolution
  2. 1080p charted: Viewing distance to screen size
  3. Gizmodo: How to Buy an HDTV Today (or Any Day)
  4. HD Guru: Lechner Distance – The Number You Need to Know Before Buying an HDTV
  5. Lechner Distance Viewing Chart

4 Responses to “Choosing the right HDTV”

  1. Melissa Kohler says:

    I’m assuming you measured the distance between the couch and the old TV. I’ll be expecting “our” new television shortly. Thanks for taking the guess work out of THAT decision. It’s nice to know my efforts on “the wall” were appreciated. Now where am I gonna put that bigass TV that’s already down there?????

  2. Jayme says:

    Tell Chris he’d have to have that 52″ on the edge of the tub when he’s taking a crap in order to get the full benefit of the 1080p. Does he realize if he’s outside of 7 feet he won’t be able to tell the difference? I’ve never seen someone that close to their TV, unless it’s Saturday morning cartoons and your still wearing pajamas.

  3. Adrienne says:

    I’m going to point Chris to this post the next time he tries to convince me we NEED the 52″ 1080p HDTV. I think the 47-incher was overkill… What is it with boys and big TVs??

  4. Sara Kohler says:

    Hold up, you have waayyy to much damn time on your hands boy! If I had 1 hour to do anything I wanted, sitting on my ass and watching TV, hi-def or not, would not be on the top 12! Get a life, get off your butt, get some exercise.!

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The author.Born in the year of the Dragon, the author grudgingly accepts the fact he has too many interests and not enough time. A cyclist as long as he can remember, an avid yet inconsistent writer since age eleven, and a U.S. Marine since age twenty-one, the author also adds peak bagging, diving, snowboarding, and computers to his list of interests. Incidentally, he is aware of his inability to make a living from any but the Corps. The author accepts this as fact and remains optimistic. Feel free to drop him a line.

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