Is There a Benefit to 4K On a 50-In Screen 8 Feet Away

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Q I am considering replacing an old, dumb 42-inch LCD TV located in a small room. The screen size will be limited to 50 inches and viewing distance will be around 8 feet. Will I see any benefit from the higher resolution given the screen size limitation? —Alan Washington, via email

A With 50-inch smart Ultra HDTVs now selling for less than $500, there’s no reason why you should hesitate to upgrade, though it’s unlikely you’ll notice a boost in picture resolution over regular 1080p with that screen size/viewing distance combination. Of the numerous screen size/viewing distance calculators that can be found online (Google “viewing distance calculator”), most will tell you that the “ideal” viewing distance — the point at which a viewer with 20/20 vision will be able to fully appreciate the picture detail contained in a 4K image — is around 3 feet for a 50-inch Ultra HDTV.

But there are other important calculations/considerations such as field of view, which quantifies the level of visual immersion you can expect from a specific screen size at a specific distance. Basically, this tells you the maximum distance you should sit from a TV, and that span is typically cited as 7 feet for a 50-inch screen.

Since it’s unlikely that you’ll be rearranging your room to sit 3 feet away from a new TV, are there any other picture quality considerations aside from resolution that should compel you to upgrade?

New Ultra HDTVs support high dynamic range (HDR), a format that delivers increased contrast over regular HDTV and is arguably a more important factor than resolution. Along with HDR, most Ultra HDTVs can display a significantly wider color gamut than regular HDTVs. Between HDR and wide color gamut, not to mention smart features that let you stream video directly to the TV, new sets offer plenty of reasons to upgrade.

SuicideSquid's picture

While it's very unlikely you're going to see an appreciable improvement in movie image quality from moving from 1080p to 2160p, where you will see a difference is in video games. If you have a PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, PC, or are planning to pick up one of the next-gen systems when they launch next year, you'll definitely see a big jump in image quality. Things like staircasing effects and aliasing are definitely much more visible in 1080p video games than they are in movies, and increased resolution can noticeably increase sharpness of on-screen text, HUD overlays, etc.

Thomas J. Norton's picture
Regardless of the possible viewing distance issues, it's also now difficult to find a TV offering the best picture quality in other respects, plus the widest range of smart features, that isn't also 4K. 2K is now relegated largely to entry-level sets, and soon even they might become 4K.