Q: I am thinking about getting a TV for our apartment for Christmas. How big should it be? I would like a bigger TV, but our apartment is small. What else do we need to know?
A: If you're like most guys, ourselves (Tom and Ray) included, it's hard to imagine there ever being such thing as a television set that is too big! However, HDTVs have managed to get so big that they can be uncomfortably large in smaller living rooms. If the screen is too large, you'll find yourself moving your head to keep up with the action on the screen. Also, the image on a TV that is too large for your room will not look as sharp because it will be easier to see the pixels. On the flip side, a TV set that is too small will be uncomfortable too, as you'll find yourself hunched over squinting to see the action.
There's a simple formula to calculate how big your TV 'should' be, based on how far away you will be sitting from it. The minimum TV size should be your distance from the screen in inches divided by 3. The maximum is the distance divided by 1.5. So if you are sitting 10 feet (120 inches) from your screen, take 120 and divide it by 3 to get the minimum TV size of 40 inches. At that distance your maximum TV size of 80 inches. However, if your sofa is only 6 feet (72 inches) away from where your television set will sit, you should get a television between 24 inches and 48 inches in size. You will find that you can have a pretty large TV unless you are going to be sitting extremely close. If you're having trouble with the math, we made a spreadsheet to make it easier. Just change the distance from your couch to your TV to find out the best size TV for your living room.
The size of your TV can also determine what screen resolution you need. If you decide to go with a smaller TV, 720p is cheaper and probably sufficient. If the screen is small, the lower resolution won't be as noticeable. But if you're going big, 1080p is definitely the way to go.
The other important statistic to know about is the refresh rate. In the early days of flat screen HDTVs the refresh rate used to matter a lot due to ghosting, but the technology has improved drastically in the last 3-5 years. To keep our answer short and sweet, in general, as long as the refresh rate is at least 60Hz, you're probably good. Since the TV and Movies are never more than 60Hz, you won't likely ever notice a difference between 60Hz and 120Hz, 240Hz, 480Hz, etc.
You may also be wondering about whether you should buy a Plasma, LED or LCD screen. This decision has more to do with personal preference than statistical fact. LED fans will scream that their colors are more vivid and bright, and plasma fans will bicker that their blacks are deeper. LED fans will complain about the flicker that plasma TVs can have, and plasma fans will gripe about how horrible the viewing angles are on LED TVs. All of their pride and complaints about the other guys are all true, but in the end, it really is a personal preference. The best thing to do is to go somewhere like Best Buy or Walmart where you can see a bunch of equally specced out TVs, and decide which you prefer.