You’re not watching 1080p TV

I ran across some interesting information  while back.  You are most likely not watching any content in 1080p.  Heck you may not even be viewing your content in 720p.  I hear you saying now “Wait… I bought a 1080p TV.  I have Blu-ray discs and HD channels with my TV provider.  I’ve even made sure I’m using HDMI to get that high def content to the TV.  What do you mean I’m not watching HD?”

Simply put even if you’ve done everything right, and hooked up everything the way you should be, chances are pretty good you aren’t watching your content in HD.How can this be?  Well it all boils down to what the human eye can see.  But first some explanation what HD is.

What is HD?
There are two types of content that most people view that is considered HD: 720p & 1080p (yes there are a couple other content out there but most are dealing with these two standards).  720p is considered anything with 720 lines of horizontal pixel content.  1080p is the same idea but with vertical pixels at 1080.  The width of your screen doesn’t matter so much as long as the lines going from the left to the right matches this number.

Before this everything was set out in 480p quality (you can guess what that is) or plain old “digital content” although wasn’t that big a deal since most sets were all using CRTs instead of pixels.  Once sets went digital content providers were able to squeeze every last piece of the TV experience out of what you were watching.

It also didn’t matter how things were hooked up because the amount of data going through was fairly low.  Whether you were using composite, s-video, or coax, there difference was fairly low.  Once 720p came along people needed component cables (that’s the 3-7 video RCA cables) in order to get all the quality out.  HDMI was needed once we started having 1080p content.  This is why it is important to have everything hooked up with HDMI if you want to get 1080p content to your TV.

Why HD isn’t HD
So if there are set guidelines on what is and isn’t HD then how can you be not viewing it as such?  Simply put, the pixel dimensions of your screen & content is only half the equation.  Yes at the screen you are viewing the exact pixels of the TV.  However the further and further back you get, the less you eye is able to distinguish.  This makes what was once 1 pixel, now only part of what your eye understands.

What does this mean to you?  Simply put, the further away from your TV set you get, the less resolution (or vertical by horizontal pixels) you are viewing the same content at.  At some point you are no longer able to distinguish the difference between 1080p, 720p, and 480p.  The higher the quality, the further away you can get before this happens.  If you pay attention to when you buy TVs, many stores have “recommended viewing” ranges.  Here’s Best Buy’s suggestions for watching HD content:

Screen Size Recommended Range
26″ 3.3′ – 6.5′
30″ 3.8′ – 7.6′
34″ 4.3′ – 8.5′
42″ 5.3′ – 10.5′
46″ 5.8′ – 11.5′
50″ 6.3′ – 12.5′
55″ 6.8′ – 12.8′
60″ 7.5′ – 15.0′
65″ 8.1′ – 16.3′

Where do you sit to watch your TV? Does that fall in this range?  Probably not.

As you might notice, the larger the TV the larger the range they suggest.  How do you figure out how far you should be sitting?  There are many ways to figure this all out.  There is a very complicated THX method, which if you are designing a high-end theater you probably should figure out.  Different experts and standards use different viewing angles ranging from 20 degrees to 40 degrees.  But for the average users it’s much simpler.  In fact there are many different calculators out there where you enter in a  bunch of variables and it spits out a distance in which is the furthest back you should sit in order to get the best viewing angle while still getting your content in HD.  Click here to punch in your TV size and choose 1080p (or 720p) to see your custom distance.

Here’s my own setup:
My TV is 50″ diagonal.  In order to for me to view content in 720p, according to the calculator I’d need to be sitting no further back than 9′ 7.5″.  To view content in 1080p, I’d need to be no further back than just over 6.5′ according to the math.  However, where do I sit?  My couch on the other side of the room is 15′ away.  Which is fine if I am only watching 480p content since the viewing distance there is just over 19′.

There’s also another way to look at this.  I sit 15′ away from wherever the TV will be.  Instead of dealing with the lower quality, I can use this equation to figure out what size TV I need to enjoy HD content.  In order to get 720p content at that distance I’d need a TV roughly 80 inches (measured diagonally).  1080p is even worse coming in needing a TV of 116 inches.  There’s no way that would look right on my wall, nor do I have anywhere near that amount of money to spend on a TV of that size.  Not happening. (For those interested at 15 feet 480 content would be best for a TV of 45″.)

Now there are many version of these calculations.  It all depends on how good your eyesight is, what viewing angles are being recommended by different experts, and even the lighting in the room.  The end result of all of these though is for the majority of people, chances are they aren’t sitting in the 1080p distance.  Chances are pretty good that you might not even be in the 720p distance.  Even if you have everything set up properly, with all the right cables and content, you may still not end up not viewing HD content.

So forget about HD?
This isn’t to say that you’re wasting money on HD.  There are many reason to have  a TV running at 1080p, even if your average viewing experience isn’t benefiting from it.  Higher quality will allow for a wide viewing range, allowing more people around the room see the content better. This gives you more options for where you can sit while still enjoying your shows.  Also, I often enjoy standing up and standing in the middle of the room while playing video games from the XBox (running at 1080p) to get a better chance of hitting the things on-screen with better accuracy.  If my TV wast running HD then this wouldn’t have been a possibility.  However for the majority of the time, I’m viewing content at much lower quality than my TV is capable of providing it to me.

Will this mean that I will rush out and buy a lower quality screen?  Of course not.  In fact I’m not even sure I can get a TV at the size I want that doesn’t do HD.

Perhaps once 4K TVs come out I’ll be able to tell the difference from the couch….

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About Tasel

Sometimes writer on things technology, Disney, MineCraft, and food.
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One Response to You’re not watching 1080p TV

  1. Pingback: At what point does your eyes stop caring? | Tasel's Ramblings

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