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Five tips for when you are buying a new TV to watch Freeview or Freesat

I have been visiting stores where TVs are sold, and I have five tips to help you get the best value for money from your next TV.

How far is the TV screen from the sofa?  Photograph:
How far is the TV screen from the sofa? Photograph:
published on UK Free TV

Why do TV stores have a layout that makes it hard to view televisions from a "sofa" distance? 


Tip 1: Measure the distance from your sofa to the set at home and then replicate it in the store

Retail stores show the TVs on sale in a way that is somewhat different to how they are seen from a living room sofa.

Remember that you should view a TV with your eyes in the centre.  If you’re looking down, or looking up, then you won’t be able to see what the set looks like in normal use. 

The following table shows four optimal distances** in meters to be from a widescreen TV set.  The first “typical” value (shown in green) is the distance away you need to see all of the screen without having to move your head.  

"HD" is the viewing distance to see the benefit of Full HD (“1080p”).  Cinema is the distance you should be for optimal viewing of movies.  The "UHD" distance is how close you need to be to distinguish (“4k”) UHD from Full HD.

TV Screen size vs viewing distance

If your set is 3.5 meters away from the sofa, it won’t look any better to you HD than standard defintion,  even it is an "82 inch" model.  


Tip 2: Considering your lighting conditions?

You never see TV sets for sale close to exterior windows.   They are almost always at the back of the store where the lighting is constant … and low.

You might have a room like this at home, but if you don’t you might want to consider that the TV could also be in a well sunlit room when it’s being used, or is used to watch summer sport such as Wimbledon.

The less dark the viewing room, the less benefit you are going to be able to get from new technologies such as HDR (where you can see extra detail when pausing some movies).  If it’s a general use set in a well lit family area, paying extra for HDR or UHD may never be beneficial.


Tip 3: Can you see the TV you want to buy with live Freeview or Freesat channels?

When you visit, I bet that all the sets are showing wonderful looking mountains, or time-delay aerial city shots or clips from animated movies. 

If you want a TV at home to watch Homes Under the Hammer or Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish or Judge Judy – ask the store to show you BBC One, Dave or CBS Reality live from Freeview or Freesat.  


Tip 4: Does your TV need to be “Smart”?

The problem with buying a “smart” TV is the screen will last much longer than the "smart" bits - the built-in apps it will age badly because you can’t replace the built-in computer they run on.  

The software apps on mobile phones are updated daily whilst the software on a “smart” TV gathers virtual dust.    Touchscreen mobile phones have brilliant interfaces, smart TVs with their clunky, fiddly remote controls have the worst interfaces ever invented.

You might like to consider not worrying about a "smart" TV and use a  £30-ish streaming-device such as Chromecast or Amazon Fire stick, Apple TV or Roku.   You can then use the much more conveniennt (Android or Apple) tablet or phone to select things you want to watch.   If and when the streaming box goes out of date it’s another £30-ish:  you won’t need to throw away a whole TV set to get “smart” software upgrades.


Tip 5: Use external speakers

Physics says that it is impossible to make a TV flat and get good sound from it. 

So, don’t worry too much about the sound the TV makes in the store, as you won't be using it: either use an existing stereo or a sound-bar.   A good one should last for many years.   



What do you think?    Do you have better tips?   Tell me in the comments below.  


 ** Note: use this equation to calculate viewing distance, d, from diagonal screen size w, using g=30 (mixed usage), 32 (Full HD), 40 (cinema) or 64 (Ultra HD).  

Help with High Definition?
Whenever i watch moving sport especially football I experience much poorer pictu1
In this section
Freeview removes com8 channels 1
20 Freeview HD TV channels to close March/June 2019 in Cornwall2
Channel 4 abandons Freesat HD in TWO DAYS3
Why do less than one in five people with an HD set watch in HD?4
All five public service channels now free to air!5
Will we ever have Freeview Ultra HD or Freesat Ultra HD?6

Saturday, 21 October 2017
John Foster
2:31 PM

My 80" screen (using a projector) is 3.5 metres from my sitting position, I can assure you that the difference between standard definition and HD is extremely obvious to me at this distance, and if I stand 0.5 metre behind my chair it is just as obvious.

So I have some doubts about the validity of your table.

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John Foster's 1 post GB flag
Peter Hegan
2:33 PM

I totally agree with your so called smart tv comments, I install aerials and dishes etc and am often asked about buying a new television. I suggest they buy the HD non-smart version and use a box like Now TV which has all the players and are regularly updated.
I suppose the time will come when the smart version is all there will be in shops but at the moment the manufacturers don't appear to be keeping their equipment up to date.

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Peter Hegan's 1 post GB flag
5:37 PM

Good article.

When I looked some time ago it seemed almost impossible to buy a new TV without smart features. Is it possible to by a UHD tv without smart?


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Abe's 2 posts GB flag

6:47 PM

Looking at each point in turn, there is a lot of good stuff there, but from my experience, some of it is misleading or misses the point.

Tip 1 -
Getting the size right is everything. I will always spend a couple of minutes making sure that the size is right for the customer - often they are bag on, but I do get a fair number of people who will either want a TV set that 'does not dominate the room' or want something as large as possible, because their friend has a large TV (the latter category is always male).

The biggest single reason why we get TV's back is because 'its the wrong size'. Sometimes they have been bought off the net without really checking (the 75in TV bought sight unseen was perhaps the most obvious example), or have convinced themselves that a cheapish big TV is better value. I think TV's should fit the room (with a little growing space, you will get used to the size very quickly) - in essence, like a suit.

The ratio I always used to use for HD sets was roughly 2.5 to 3 times the size of the screen away from you. Unfortunately, the table is a bit difficult to use, because since TV are all still sold in inchs (because thats what Americans use), multiples of imperial measurements are much easier to use than cm. However, the 40in figure for 'typical' is roughly 5.5 ft, whereas I would have been recommending perhaps 8-10 feet, even 8 years ago.

In short, those numbers would be way too close for most of my customers, and frankly, for me. They have been around for some years, but I'd be cautious about them. Having said that, they do look like some of the ratios that reps like to give people regarding 4k, which would be more realistic.

The customer is always right, but they shouldn't be too close.

The other thing that the table does which is to assume there is a difference between 'typical' (SD - although arguably thats no longer 'typical' at all), HD, 'Cinema' (presumably Blu Ray) and then 4K. In reality, there are just three screen resolutions for practical purposes - SD, HD and 4K. HD on TV is 1080i, whereas Blu Ray is 1080p - I'm not moving my sofa to get the 'optimum' viewing distance when watching a blu ray, and then moving it back for Strictly - you just stay where you are.

Nowadays, I'd say closer to 2 to 2.5 for most customers - your watching HD on a 4K set, so you can sit a bit closer, but there is close and there is brain ache.

As for the statement that you can't notice the diffence between SD and HD at 3.5m away, even with an 82in set, I'm actually currently about 3.6m from our 32in TV, and I can tell the difference between BBC News and BBC News HD right now. On an 82in TV, you certainly would.

Tip 2 - Lighting.

I will ask about lighting - a lot of customers have french windows, etc. Actually, the lighting in a store isn't that low, but it is standard FL lights with a relatively high ceiling, so its not going to be exactly the same. And the reason for the lack of windows isn't down to some conspiracy, its simple because a window is somewhere you can't put merchandise, etc - big box stores are ....big boxes. Windows tend to be at the entrance, or for coffee shops,etc. In fact our nearest windows are in the bed dept, which is next to us, but the rumour is that was going to be the coffee shop originally, but it got switched round.

As for whether HDR or UHD will be worth it if your room is bright, etc - a) they all are, as we will see, and b) the lighter the room, the better the panel the better - its a more difficult environment.

Tip 3 - We do!
I'm working tomorrow, and Sunday Kitchen will be a staple (normal HD and family friendly). The bulk of TV's in my dept will be on an HD feed, in fact quite possibly Homes Under the Hammer or Bargain Hunt. We do put cartoons on, but they dont show detail all that well, and since you buying that, we'd rather show something else. There was an HD clip from the CGI Jungle Book that was amazingly popular,

Tip 4 -
Dont buy a TV just for the sake of 'smartness' - the platform and apps will only be updated for so long (Panasonic use Firefox, which just uses links, which is much more flexible, although ironically Firefox itself isn't being updated on the TV). Buy the TV because its the right size, picture, etc. As long as its got enough inputs (3 HDMI's at least), then you can just use a different box until kingdom come.

But the reality is that they are all smart (sorry Peter)- our buyers dont really bother with a non start version on a set any more - the economies of scale and the market dont make it worth it.

Out of a 138 TV's on our website, 124 are available as smart, and since I haven't seen one in store for a while, I can only assume they are basic models that are only online. Even three years ago, the non smart version would be generally less capable - a less good panel, fewer HDMI's, etc. Yes, they were cheaper, but often not markedly.

In short, your buying a smart TV, whether you use the smart functions or not, because the economies of scale make that standard.

And many higher end TV's will have a smart remote (often blue tooth), but often an app will be standard as well if you want to use that. Its easy to link a TV or blu ray with You Tube on your network to your phone, and 'cast' from your phone - much quicker to search.

And when the smartness isn't all that, then just slap another box in - Amazon Firestick, etc. But its not something you can chose to add instead of the smartness inside the TV - its just an upgrade. BTW - my Now TV box has the 4 channels, but to be honest, its not as fast as it used to be to react to commands, and of course, it too will need updating.

On the other hand, we have an Xbox, blu ray, Now TV - all of which are smart and the HD box is smart as well. And I would use the Chromecast I bought cheap last Black Friday, but I'm out of connections.

Tip 5 - Yes.
Actually, TV's are often not that bad, but a soundbar is a good investment - its a speaker system, which will have blue tooth as standard, and often a wireless sub - stream your music through it as well. Expect to pay roughly 220 for a decent mid range one from the big 4 brands, and frankly, there is a huge choice of audio systems - narrow it down to what you want.

If you go into my dept, the bulk of TV's will be 4K. You can buy an HD TV, but I can't give you much choice - out of that 138 stocked (and we wont have all of those models in store), only 12 are Full HD, and 17 HD Ready (32in or less). And of those full HD models, in 40in plus, I can only get you one model from each manufacturer . And they will OK models. TV's go entry, mid and high (and the prices rises accrodingly). Each time the quality of the panel will be better.

So the HD sets I can offer you in a 40-43in, etc will be, by the standards of 3 years ago, entry. A Samung 5500, A Panasonic 5 series, and a Sony W6. All decent, but not top drawer. And the biggest you'll get them in is a 49-50in.

Put it this way, we had the HD Samsung 6300 (classic mid level HD set for some years) in a 49 right next to a Samsung 4K 6500 decent entry set next to each other last year. I love the HD 6 series, but looking at them (both were curved, so they looked very similar) I was surprised to see that the 4K model had a better picture! We were watching Planet Earth II in HD, and it was clear that there was better motion and sharpness, even though the 4K set was working 4 times harder than the HD model. It was at that point that I decided my next TV would be a 4K.

The killer was that at that moment, the 4K set was actually slightly cheaper than the HD one. Now our buyers dont even bother with that model.

My advice hasn't really changed in years - buy the right size (nowadays thing perhaps 2-2.5 times size of screen away0, from one of the big four brands, with 3 or more HDMI's. Everything is going to be smart have wifi and Freeview HD - your paying for the panel - the better it is, the more its costs. get the best that you can that you like, because it wont get any better as a picture. As someone I used to work with put it 'dont becheap' (something he would never say to the customer, of course). Buy once, buy right.

Unless your very limited in your viewing and have no net access, your probably going to be buying a 4K set, which will possibly look better on HD than an HD set (although you'll have to stand a very very long distance away if your watching SD on a 4K panel). And that set will probably be only slightly more expensive (or sometimes cheaper)

Get a soundbar - again they go in levels, and although you certainly dont have to get the same brand, the brand might want to give you a deal on extra bits, like a soundbar or blu ray. Expect to pay 200-250 for a midlevel one, which is the sweet spot. And get a 4K upscaling blu ray, even if your TV is still HD - it will have more features, have a better chipset, and your future proofed. A customer had chosen a Sony blu ray to go with their Sony TV the other day, and asked me to put them through the till. I noticed that they had chosen the S3700. For 3 more, the S6500 was on the shelf - a much better player. So I convinced them to change.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag

7:06 PM

Abe: the only way for most people to watch 4K instantly is via Netflix or Amazon Video - so no, there is zero chance a 4k set wont be smart.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Sunday, 22 October 2017
Johnny Foreigner
3:32 AM

It appears that in the spirit of BREXIT and the need to keep foreigners out, your web site is blocking access to non UK geo-located IP addresses. Any web paged just appears as a white page and the two letter country code of the geo-location of the IP address. Rather odd, since the hosting provider for is not in the UK but the foreign nation or Ireland and the .tv domain is fhe foreign nation of Tuvalu in the South Pacific.

My advice for buying a new TV is to hold out for as long as possible (several years more at least) until price of OLED display screens become mainstream affordable.

Japan Display (consortium of display manufacturers) is hopefully finally getting its act together to produced OLED displays to compete with the few other OLED producers (predominantly in ROK at the present time).

Japan Display faces rocky road even with new turnaround plan- Nikkei Asian Review

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Johnny Foreigner's 1 post GB flag
Keith Apps
7:53 AM

The distances you mention for viewing are obviously for people with very poor eyesight, the distances for good eysight are probably 3 times as much. If anyone needs to be that close to see the difference then they will fail the sight test for driving. I am a pensioner and I can see the difference between SD (standard definition) & HD at far greater distances.

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Keith Apps's 2 posts GB flag

1:44 PM

Johnny Foreigner:

It is not this website that does that but the server in use. When I was recently in holiday in France for three weeks, I used a VPN service set to use a UK IP address and I was able to view all the comments and add mu contributions as well.

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag
Dr Bryan Roe
6:49 PM

Very opportune article as I am considering a new TV. Currently I have a 32" Panasonic Freesat TV, which used to get iplayer until the Beeb discontinued it last October. TV works fine and is the correct size for your recommended viewing distance. One of my brothers has a 60" smart TV at a similar distance - overpowering!!

Good advice on how to solve the iplayer issue. Will probably stay with what I have and buy a streaming device.

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Dr Bryan Roe's 5 posts GB flag

8:29 PM

Dr Bryan Roe: The rule of thumb is go up one size from what you've already got - if you got it right the first time, then it should be fine the next time. A 32in Panasonic with Freesat is a good 6 years old (G series? - so a good set with lots of HDMI's), and if you measure the width, probably around 29in. A modern 40-43in 4K set is 36in, and being able to sit a little closer, etc, should be fine.

But if you just want to update to stream, then a) look what you already have, or b) buy a streamer.
Blu Ray players, Freeview HD boxes, PVR's and games machines are all smart these days - we've got all of the above apart from a modern PVR (the old one has stopped working) under our Freeview TV, and can use any of them. See what you've got.

If your about to upgrade your PVR, then one with Freeview Play and wifi would be a good choice - you'd get an HD tuner for watching and recording, plus catchup, etc.

But a Amazon Firestick, Chromecast, Ruku etc would all be good streamers. The Ruku has the advantage of not being tied to any service, and is seen as the Swiss Army Knife of streamers (thats what the Now TV box is based on). Amazon, Now TV and Chromecast are all based on the Gillete model - they want to sell you product, and so the kit is relatively cheap.

As for the point about OLED, its good to see the Japanese (or at least the nationalised rump of the Japanese panel industry) going for it. LG has been the only brand making them for a couple of years (they supplied OLED panels this year for the very nice Sony and Panasonic OLEDs). However, OLED panels are still expensive to make, and its currently worth making them only in 55in plus - so economies of scale and competition might drive down prices.

OLEDs are great in many ways, but until now have had some problems matching LED's for motion and possible brightness, but I must admit to loving the Panasonic. On the other hand, its twice the price of the lovely Panasonic 750 LED - its still a competitive market. We will see what happens.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
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