On two-dimensional display devices such as computer monitors and television sets, the display size (or viewable image size or VIS) is the actual amount of screen space that is available to display a picture, video or working space, without obstruction from the case or other aspects of the unit's design. The viewable image size (often measured in inches or millimeters) is sometimes called the physical image size, to distinguish it from the "logical image size" (display resolution, measured in pixels) of various computer display standards.
The size of an approximately rectangular display is usually given by TV and monitor manufacturers as the distance between two opposite screen corners, that is, the diagonal of the rectangle. This method of measurement is inherited from the method used for the first generation of CRT television, when picture tubes with circular faces were in common use. Being circular, only their diameter was needed to describe their size. Since these circular tubes were used to display rectangular images, the diagonal measurement of the rectangle was equivalent to the diameter of the tube's face. This method continued even when cathode ray tubes were manufactured as rounded rectangles; it had the advantage of being a single number specifying the size, and was not confusing when the aspect ratio was universally 4:3. In the US, when virtually all TV tubes were 4:3, the size of the screen was given as the diagonal with a V following it. In Japan and other markets, the size of the outer diameter of the tube was given. What was a 27V in the US would be a 28" in Japan. However the V terminology was frequently dropped in US advertising referring to a 27V as a 27". This was not misleading for the consumer as the seller had to give the actual screen size by law. Liquid crystal displays use 100% of their surface to display, thus the VIS is the actual size presented to the viewer.
A problematic practice was the use of the size of a monitor's imaging element, rather than the size of its viewable image, when describing its size in publicity and advertising materials. On CRT displays a substantial portion of the CRT's screen is concealed behind the case's bezel or shroud in order to hide areas outside the monitor's "safe area" due to overscan. These practices were seen as deceptive, and widespread consumer objection and lawsuits eventually forced most manufacturers to instead measure viewable size. On cathode ray tube monitors, VIS differs noticeably from the full tube size, which is generally about 25 mm (1 in).
When the common aspect ratio went from 4:3 to 16:9, the new widescreens were labeled with a W. A screen that is approximately the same height as a 27V would be a 32W. Recently Vizio and other US TV manufacturers have introduced even wider screens with a 21:9 aspect ratio in order to match aspect ratios used in cinemas. In order to gauge the relative sizes of these new screens, the screen aspect must be considered. Indeed, in a commercial market where multiple aspect ratios are being sold, it will always take two numbers to describe the screen size, some combination of diagonal, aspect ratio, height or width.
Set sizes are frequently given as a "class" as screens from different manufacturers will have slight differences in size. However the "class" should be within 1/2" of the actual size. The reasons for the different sizes within a class stem from differences in the manufacturers' equipment. LCDs are cookie-cut from one large piece of glass. As manufacturers move from one size to another, newer larger sizes must fit on the same size glass, though with fewer displays being cut from it. Some sizes fit well and maximize glass utilization, other sizes fit more poorly and waste glass. As an example, in some cases, increasing the screen size by even 0.1" can cause an LCD manufacturer to go from 12 screens fitting on their glass sheet to 9. This would make them uncompetitive with other screen makers.
Ideal Screen Size
The TV image is composed of many lines of pixels. Ideally, the TV watcher sits far enough away from the screen that the individual lines merge into one solid image. The watcher may sit even farther away and still see a good picture, but it will be a smaller portion of their visual field. The resolution of the human eye (with 20/20 vision) is about one minute of arc. For full HDTV resolution, this one minute of arc implies that the TV watcher should sit 4 times the height of the screen away. So the ideal set size may be determined from the chart below by measuring the distance from where the watcher would sit to the screen in inches, dividing that by 4, and comparing with the screen heights below. If the user is replacing a standard definition TV with an HDTV this implies that the best visual experience will be with a set that is twice as tall as the standard definition set. As the average size LCD TV being sold is now 38", which is only about 15% taller than their old 27V, this means that most consumers buy HDTV sets that are smaller than what they could utilize. Of course, in addition to screen size, budget sizes must be considered as well.
Measurements and units
The main measurements for display devices are:
- Width and height
- Total area
- The diagonal, usually measured in inches. The diagonal measurement of a display as the actual viewable area is also dependent on the aspect ratio of the display. For a display device of the same area, the diagonal achieves a larger value in a widescreen than compared to a more square screen. There is a risk of manufacturers making displays wider than what is actually most convenient in order to make the diagonal achieve a larger value.
The width and height can be calculated from the diagonal as follows:
- D is the diagonal
- W and H are taken from the aspect ratio as W:H, or, alternatively, by the screen resolution given by rows of pixels (assuming square-shaped pixels).
These are charts of some common sizes of LCDs with varying aspect ratios and their actual viewable area.
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