By today’s standards, TVs used to be tiny. In 1997, the average TV screen size in the US was 22 inches; by 2020, it was 49 inches. As technology develops and image quality grows ever better, televisions only seem to get bigger and bigger.
You’ll find a dizzying range of TV sizes on the market, ranging from little 32-inch countertop models all the way mammoth 85-inchers. But before you go ahead and buy the biggest TV your budget will allow, it’s worth knowing some essential information about TV sizes, viewing distances and how to get them both right in the space you have.
How to choose the right size TV
Most people want the biggest possible television they can fit in their living room - and the good news is that big televisions are no longer exclusively high-end (if, indeed, you can now call 55-inch or 65-inch televisions big).
But the size of a television has to be offset against the amount of viewing space you have at your disposal. Invest in too large a television, and you might start to see the pixels that make up the image, which will spoil your viewing experience. Alternatively, you could buy a TV with a native resolution that simply can’t be enjoyed at the distance you’re watching it, and isn’t worth the money.
Always keep in mind that screen sizes are measured diagonally, not horizontally, so it’s no indicator of a TV’s overall width. Nor does the overall screen size mean TV size, since nearly all TVs have a bezel frame surrounding the display. These are getting slimmer and slimmer as TV’s internal workings grow ever less bulky, but if you’re hoping to fit the biggest size TV possible into an alcove, you should definitely look at the overall size under the specs on a product page.
More like this
It’s up to you how much wall or floor space you wish to give over to your TV, and where you wish to position your chairs and couches. But we can go to the relationship between screen size, resolution and viewing distance, to help you make the right decision in buying the right size TV. Once you've read this, head over to our explainer on How to measure a TV screen.
If you're struggling to find a good tabletop spot for your television, it's always worth thinking about installing it on the wall with a bracket. Read our article on how to mount a TV to find out more.
Recommended screen sizes by resolution
With the optimum viewing distance in mind (read on for more about this), here’s the ideal screen size for each native resolution available on the market.
Non-4K TVs now are generally only a wise investment if you’re seeking out a 32-inch TV or smaller - probably a supplemental one, for a bedroom or kitchen - and you’re keen to keep your spending on a budget. At that size, any higher resolution will make little difference.
It’s at around the 50-inch to 55-inch mark that a 4K-quality television really makes the difference. That said, you'll find plenty of much smaller televisions that have 4K, and they’re not disproportionately more expensive than non-4K either. Ultra HD is simply no longer the exclusive, high-price technology it used to be.
Thinking of buying an 8K TV? Good for you! Boasting a gargantuan 7680 by 4320 pixel resolution, 8K-quality TVs are available on the market, but decidedly high-end. For example, the Samsung 65-inch QEQ800 8K TV is well over £2,000 at Currys PC World. But don’t get envious: to really enjoy an 8K television in an average living room, you’d need to buy one of at least 75 inches to really appreciate the difference with 4K. This makes 8K sets, for now, exclusively for venue owners and show-offs.
To make things simple, here’s our advice: buy 4K.
Recommended TV viewing distances
Your viewing distance should be roughly 1.5 times your screen size - but don’t worry, there’s some leeway in this. This certainly applies to 1080p HD televisions - any closer, and the image will start to degrade and look grainy. Fortunately, with the advance of 4K, there’s some leeway in this rule, and if you don’t have much space, you can get away with a 1:1 ratio between your screen size and viewing distance.
Incidentally, while sitting too close to a television may give you a headache from straining your eyes, it won’t give your eyes any long-lasting damage. Optimum viewing distance isn’t about eye health, but getting the most out of your television’s picture quality.
Screen size calculator
Chances are you already have a set viewing distance in place in the room you watch TV. So to make things easy, here’s a table of recommended viewing distances for each TV screen size, for both 4K and 1080p HD televisions.
|TV Screen Size||Recommended viewing distance (4K)||Recommended viewing distance (HD)|
|32 inches||32-48 inches (2.7-4 feet)||48 inches (2.7 feet)|
|40 inches||40-60 inches (3.3-5 feet)||60 inches (5 feet)|
|42 inches||42-63 inches (3.5-5.3 feet)||63 inches (5.3 feet)|
|48 inches||48-72 inches (4-6 feet)||72 inches (6 feet)|
|50 inches||50-75 inches (4.1-6.3 feet)||75 inches (6.3 feet)|
|55 inches||55-82.5 inches (4.5-6.8 feet)||82.5 inches (6.8 feet)|
|60 inches||60-90 inches (5-7.5 feet)||90 inches (7.5 feet)|
|65 inches||65-97.5 inches (5.4-8.1 feet)||97.5 inches (8.1 feet)|
|75 inches||75-112.5 inches (6.3-9.3 feet)||112.5 inches (9.3 feet)|
Further tips for which size TV to buy
- Don’t assume bigger means costlier. There are plenty of other variables to take on board like brand reputation, additional picture technology and the age of the model. Keep in mind that prices vary wildly across TV sizes. For example, this LG 75-inch Smart 4K UHD TV currently costs around £600 less than this 55-inch Sony Bravia Smart 4K OLED TV because of the latter’s cutting-edge OLED technology. For more information on this high-end class of television, take a look at our what is an OLED TV explainer.
- On that note: just as it isn’t all about size, it’s not all about 4K either. Take a look to see if the TV features OLED - or in the case of Samsung, QLED - technology, which both use innovative pixel tech to make 4K picture as close to perfect as possible.
- A big screen deserves big sound to match. Add a soundbar to maximise the quality of your audio. They can often cost as much, if not more, than the TV itself. But retailers like John Lewis and Currys PC World often offer bundles which save you money, or include soundbars for free with the higher-end models.