The Case For Small TVs

Common thought is to get a big TV. Hell, I want two. But instead, I put a 23-inch set in my livingroom for two months to see what it would be like.

I was curious what it would be like. I mean, I had my reasons, but none of them were really great, to be honest.

Small TVs use less power, although not as much as you'd expect. For example, David Katzmaier, TV dude from CNet explained to me that in one example, comparing a 32-inch LCD by Samsung to its 52-inch equivalent, its power consumption jumps only 68% for 168% more real estate. Not bad.

Small TVs are cheaper. Average prices on Amazon for a set in the 22-29 inch range hover around 500 dollars; sets over 50 inches go for 5-10 times that much for about 4x the real estate. There's a lot of value in smaller sets. But in this economy, some analysts believe that small TV sets won't get any cheaper, while bigger sets will get a bit less expensive. So the relative value these days is somewhat diminished.

If I had a real reason to make the switch, it was social.

I always grew up with a TV as the overriding piece of furniture in my livingspace; the TV was and is the 800 pound gorilla, or elephant in the room, with all seating beholden to the screen. In a house arranged like this, it feels like the room belongs to the TV, standing over everything in its domain. A room like that looks like it belongs to an overgrown geek (true) and never feels like it belongs to an adult and I was starting to feel self conscious about it. A small TV would not dominate the room.

Still, using a 23-incher is quite a stretch down. My couch is about 8 feet back from the entertainment system, and excellent for slouching and watching. According to most sizing charts, the room I sit in should have a TV between 32 and 50 inches. I usually use a 52 or higher as I review sets.

Watching tiny TV was surprisingly good at first.

Standard definition TV looked perfect almost on every channel, because pixels were smaller. From 9 feet away, the 23-inch set made standard def look almost as good as HD on the 50+ inch sets. I could not differentiate between HD and SD at times, depending on the material. Wii also looked good, with its standard def output.

The same went for DVDs. Sorta. There is no doubt that the cinematic experience is diminished exponentially on a screen you have to squint to see finer detail on. This was less a resolution issue (res appeared great) than a size issue. I just didn't feel the impact of Batman base jumping off of Hong Kong skyscrapers in IMAX on a screen smaller than the monitor on some PCs, from across the room.

The opposite happened when I played Xbox 360. It is here where resolution is not used, as on blu-rays, to display finer gradients of hair and particles of rock or more detailed skin or exploding cars. Man made textures on a small TV are fine. But here's what you miss: The Xbox and most modern games make deliberate use of every pixel in two facets, which make it impossible to watch on a small screen, no matter if HD or not: perspective and interface. The fonts and menus and prompts and health gauges and reticules on most games are ridiculously detailed. And perspective was the defining drawback moment, especially when playing the zombie killing game Left for Dead: when you're sniping a zombie from 100 meters and the clouds roll over the moon, and the greys crush to black, can you see the zombie clearly enough as he runs towards you from the distance to make the shot your life depends on? On a small TV, like this, I pulled up a chair and sat 5 feet away, transforming the experience into a sort of PC gaming event. With split screen, we were all 3 feet away and very cozy, thank you.

Even with the eyesight of an eagle, there's only so much resolution the eye can take in from a distance, while looking at anything but a huge TV.

But rather than conclude that we all need bigger TVs, I'm going to say that PS3 and Xbox owners need them first. Second, movie buffs, but movie buffs might want to consider projectors. For most of us, just watching TVs and flicks, I can see how a smaller set would do well enough most of the time. Most of the time. For someone else.