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Home theater viewing angles, distances and sightlines

Horizontal Viewing Angles

The horizontal viewing angle is the angle subtended by a straight line from each side of the screen to the seating position. The main two standards in the commercial world are the SMPTE and THX specifications as summarized in the diagram below:

New cinemas built to THX specifications have a minimum viewing angle of 36 degrees from the last row of seats. The viewing angle ‘sweet spot’ seems to be around 45-50 degrees where SMPTE, THX and 20th Century Fox recommendations converge. This matches quite closely with CEDIA’s 43 degree viewing angle recommendation for 2.4:1 ‘Cinemascope’ content as per CEB-23. For reference 43 degrees is 3x picture height using a 2.35:1 screen.

Depending on where you like to sit in a commercial theater you might have a viewing angle of anywhere from 36 to 60 degrees. Personal preference is therefore an important factor and should be a prime consideration when laying out your home theater.


Image Resolution and Horizontal Viewing Angles

Visual acuity data give us useful information about when a person should be able to appreciate the full benefit of different resolutions.

  • 480p – 4.1x width
  • 720p – 2.7x width
  • 1080p – 1.7x width (equivalent to 33 degrees viewing angle with a 2.35:1 screen)
  • 4k – 0.8x width (over 60 degrees viewing angle with a 2.35:1 screen!)

Higher resolutions should allow us to sit closer to the screen for a more immersive experience. Likewise with lower resolutions we may want a smaller viewing angle so that deficiencies in the source’s resolution are not overly exposed.


Vertical Viewing Angles

The CEDIA recommendation, which is based on SMPTE guidance, is or no viewer to have an angle of greater than 15 degrees to the top or bottom of the screen. Typically this puts viewers eye’s at 1/3rd to 1/6th of screen height.



Dealing With Multiple Rows of Seats

In larger home theaters multiple rows of seats are common. This introduces some compromises and challenges:

  • Horizontal viewing angles. Due to the smaller screen sizes and viewing distances in a home theater the viewing angle changes much faster than it would do in a cinema. A front row in a theater with three rows of seats might have a viewing angle of as much as 60 degrees with the back row only 26 degrees.
  • Sightlines. With more than one row sightlines from second and subsequent rows to the screen can be blocked by viewer’s heads. Typically this is dealt with using seating risers or horizontally staggered seating layouts. When using risers one must be careful not to exceed vertical viewing angle recommendations.


Need help laying out your home theater screen and seating locations for proper viewing angles? Contact us now!


18 thoughts on “Home theater viewing angles, distances and sightlines”

  1. I’m thinking of getting either a 87.2″ or 104.6″ wide screen to watch 1.78 and 2.35 aspect ratio movies. This way, if I buy a 16.9 screen and mask it horizontally from the top, I can also watch 2.35 movies with no side or bottom masking.

    The 2.35 movie at 87.2″ would have a 95″ diagonal and at 1.78, it would fit the screen without masking (since that is the standard I would buy).

    Likewise, and 104.6″ wide screen would have a 114″ diagonal and at 2.35, and for the 1.78 aspect ratio, the projection would fit the screen without masking.

    My question is whether the larger format would be too big for my room considering a viewer woud sit about 9 feet in front of the screen in the first row and 14 feet in the last row (2nd row). What do you think – and if it was too big, then is the smaller screen a good option?

    In either case, my masking would simply be a roller blind to reduce the verical size of the screen dimension to watch a 2.35 movie. (Nb, I would mainly watch 2.35 movies, but I thought the 16:9 screen would allow me to watch both formats with not much more work, whereas a 2.35 format screen would of course limit the 1.78 experience.

    Please don’t go to a lot of work, only answer if you can give me your opinion rather simply.

    From another web-site , I calcuated the field angles for the centre of the first row to be 51.9 degrees (2.35, 114″ diag) and 34.7 degrees for the 2nd row and 44.1 degrees in the first row and 29.2 degrees in the second row (2.35, 95″ diag.)

    For the 1.78 aspect ratio, the field angles are:
    (120″ diag: 51.7 and 34.6 degrees)
    (100″ diag: 49.4 and 32.9 degrees)

    1. Hi Haig,

      51 degrees is pushing it, but is still within the realms of possibility. When you go to a commercial cinema, how close do you sit to the screen? 52 degrees is within the front third for sure. The screen in our demo room is 50 degrees 16:9 (1.78:1) aspect ratio and I think it’s workable but some people do find it a bit large!

      For reference the CEDIA recommendation is 33 degrees for a 16:9 screen, which personally I think is a bit small.

      If you go for a large screen you should also make sure the second row can see the screen. Also make sure the top of the screen is not too high for the front row (15 degrees maximum ideally, but you could stretch this to 20 degrees).


  2. Hi Nyal, thankyou for your excellent info on your sight, a really great resource! I am currently building my new home in the uk, in it will house a theater similar size to your latest project on your blog. My room is 4m wide by 6.8m deep, i propose 2 rows of seats with the first being 9ft from the screen wall, the second directly behind on a riser, what size 16×9 screen would you reccommend for optimal viewing in the first row?
    Kind regards.

    1. The way I normally approach it with my clients is to ask them where they like to sit in a commercial cinema. From there we get the lateral viewing angle. Then check whether it works within the layout of the room (can 2nd row see the screen, how does it work with L/R speaker placement, etc).

  3. I am currently setting up AV room size 20ft wide x 12ft height x 17ft length. To experience IMAX visual effect will try curve screen but what max size screens to use? And best seating position for 2 rows seat from screen? Appreciate. Tq

    1. Depending on your IMAX theater and where you sit, the lateral viewing angle can 60 degrees or more! I’d say you want minimum of 9′ from screen to first row. So maybe plan 1st row at 9′ and work out the screen size required for a 60 degree lateral angle. You’ll also need to plan for 6.5′ minimum, better 7′ between seating rows if you are going to use theater recliners. That gives you the location of your 2nd row in terms of distance from screen. In a room of your size I do not think you can fit two rows of recliners, unless one is slammed against a wall (which is very bad for audio), so maybe a single row plus bar seating is a better bet.

  4. One question which is never made clear in the distance calculators, is what is meant by “viewing distance”, i.e. is it the eyeball-to-screen distance or the seat-to-screen distance? It’s not such a big deal with upright type cinema seating, but with home sofas and recliners, the seat-front-to-eyeball distance is significant.

    For example, in my setup, my sofa/recliner is 100cm deep, and my eyeball is about 75cm from its front edge. So with a seat-to-screen distance of 2m, my eyeball-to-screen distance is 2.75m. But wait, it gets worse! My 75″ TV is on a stand on a low sideboard, putting the screen surface 25cm from the furniture edge. So if I casually measure the distance from the sideboard to the seat as 2m which warrants UHD/4K, my actual viewing distance is 3m so I may as well just have a standard HD display.

    So please tell me, are the graph distances the eyeball-to-screen distance or the seat-to-screen distance?

  5. I am setting up home theater but did not realize how much was involved. I tried to get a formal analysis but you are busy till the end of February. I have an autocad layout of my room which is 12ft 2 inches wide and 21 feet 2 inches long with ceiling height of 7’9 inches. There is also a closet that can house the receiver, etc. There is also an alcove halfway down the room that is an additional 4 to 5 feet that would allow you to get to the second row.
    I have a projector screen that is coming next week that is 120 inch diagonal and would like to fit in 2 rows of seating for a family of 8. I am not sure how high to make the riser and how high to hang the projector. Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Joyce, make the riser as tall as possible. We normally do 15″ riser, but that might be problematic with your ceiling height. Maybe 12″ would be better for your situation. We layout the room in CAD which tells us the sight lines and let’s us specify screen height. If you don’t know how to do this then best is to get the projector mounted and fire it up, sit in the back row and have someone sit in the front, then adjust the screen height until it clears the top of their head. Good luck!

  6. My basement size is 33.8 feet(D), 26.25 feet (W) and 9.1 feet (H). I want 2 rows of seating of 5 chairs each and planing to have 150 inch screen which has pre-programmed aspect ratio of 1.78, 1.85, 2.35 and 2.4. and will be using 16:9 4k projector with 5K lumen.
    whether the room dimensions will accommodate 150 inch screen with 2 row of 5 each
    or 3 row of 3 each. and how far the first row will be from screen and the last row from back of the wall

    1. Hi Sunil. You’ll need a very tall riser to allow a 150″ 16:9 screen. It’s best to layout everything in CAD or if you don’t have that capability, hire a professional or do a scale drawing to check the sight lines. Plan on 2-3ft for the screen wall, 9-12 ft to first row, 6-7ft to 2nd row.

  7. My home theater dimensions are 19′ wide by 24′ deep by 8’6″ high. I do not know where to start. I typically would like to get the largest screen, 2 rows of 4 seats each and a bar on the back end. I would like 9′ between the wall and the first row of seats. I was planning on a 114″ or larger – diagonal screen. I will be using a 16:9 4K projector.

  8. Hi Nyal, you mention a sweet spot of 45 to 50 degrees for scope screens, what is the sweet spot or view angles angles for 16:9 screens? Does THX or SMPTE define the view angle differences between the two aspect ratios?

    For example, would a view angle of 45 or 50 work for both 16:9 and 2.35:1 assuming constant width?

    1. Lateral viewing angle targets are the same for 16:9 or 2.4. With 16:9 keeping the vertical viewing angle in targets can sometimes be challenging – in particular angle to center and top of screen.

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