How to buy the right-sized TV (the only problem is that it might not exist)

It’s the same trend, year in, year out: TVs get ever bigger—and ever cheaper. There was a time when a 55-inch TV seemed gigantic; now, 75-inch sets are becoming common. And if every room in your home was an oversized living room, we’d say buy the biggest TV you can afford and move the couch to the appropriate distance.

But that advice doesn’t work for dorm rooms, micro apartments, small bedrooms, and the typical home office, where a large display would simply be out of place. What’s more, some people—including this writer—just don’t want a massive screen to be the dominant feature of their living space.

The problem with buying small, however, is that it nearly always means getting a TV that delivers a less-than-state-of-the-art image. As I wrote this, there were exactly two sets smaller than 55-inch class that could be referred to as top tier: the $1,800 Sony A9S Master Series; and the $1,500 LG 48CXPUB, both of which are 48-inch class OLEDs.

But before I dive deeper, allow me to present a brief treatise on size versus viewing distance.

Minimal viewing distance

To see the entire screen without experiencing eyestrain, or beholding a sea of individual dots instead of a field of dreams, you should sit back at least 1.5 times the diagonal size of the TV. With a 55-inch-class TV, for example, your seating position should be 82.5 inches away. This is a ballpark figure that will change slightly if the TV is curved, the pixels are further apart than normal (i.e., the TV has a high dot pitch), you’re in someone’s way, and so on

65q825 front hero TCL

TCL’s mini-LED 8 Series TVs are available only in 65-inches or greater.

1.5X is considered the best compromise between an immersive experience and your ocular and mental health. Personally, I find it too close. I have a 43-inch unit sitting almost 10 feet away—three feet farther than the minimum and nearly 3X the diagonal size. This is simply a matter of taste. I had a 55-incher and I got rid of it, albeit not because the image was too large, but simply because it took up too much space.

I’ve heard a smattering of complaints about the lack of high-end TVs in smaller sizes over the last few years as increased screen real estate became a thing in the industry. But recently, three IDG employees in the span of two weeks offered unsolicited comments along those lines. When I said they had to shop mid-range models if they wanted a smaller TV, eyebrows raised.

Small top-tier TVs—limited options

That brings me to the heart of the dilemma that’s the focus of this article. With the exception of the aforementioned, Sony and LG OLEDs (both use the same LG-manufactured same panel), top-tier technology simply isn’t available in smaller TVs.