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The psychology behind screen size

Screen size

How do I determine Screen Size?

Screen Size Psychology

In order to determine the psychology behind a proper screen size we will refer to the Cinema Industry. The cinema folks have been studying and refining this psychology for decades. Cinema designers frequently refer to screen size by linear width- for example: “the Malco has a 50-foot screen.” But this definition has no meaning without reference to auditorium size. A 4,000-seat sanctuary with a 50-foot screen would provide a picture to someone in the back row little better than a 19-inch TV in a large living room. But the same screen in a 50-seat sanctuary would seem as large as the Grand Canyon when viewed by a flea. The best measure of screen size as perceived by the audience is that of subtended angle. Folk legend has it that the first person walking into an empty theatre will choose a seat two-thirds of the way back in the room. So the subtended angle is measured from this “optimum location.” The audience is conscious of screen size not by absolute dimension, but by angular percentage of vision. “Rational man” sitting in the prime seat two-thirds of the way back will see a screen which subtends a horizontal width of 35, 40, 45, 50 or 55 degrees. From the projectors point of view, the most obvious significance of increased screen size is the need for more projection illumination or “lumens.” In the church world that translates to: more lumens equal more money. (See article: “High Gain Screens” for money saving tips regarding this issue). There are obvious psychological relationships between subtended screen angle and the parishioner’s experience. As the screen angle gets larger, the story impact gets greater. This effect has lead to the introduction of “environmental projection” that is intended to immerse folks in the worship experience. As the screen subtended angle increases the audience feels less like TV watchers and more like participants in the action on the screen. The eye’s theoretical field-of-view is 110 degrees- a screen subtending such an angle is hard to ignore! At this angle all the connections between the eye and brain are derived from the screen, and the observer is potentially involved completely in the experience delivered from the screen. But as the perceived picture size increases, so do the picture flaws become more apparent. You will notice problems with line structure, lack of definition, convergence issues etc. A TV or computer image (even from HDTV) is far inferior to film. These flaws should be considered when choosing screen size and projector type.

So, what is the ideal screen size? For this article we will stick with the science and psychology and not consider the church mission, theology or politics. The varying compromise between screen size (subtended angle) and picture quality has been ongoing since there have been movies. Back in 1953, Twentieth Century Fox introduced Cinemascope. This was the beginning of the wide screen formats we see today (originally 2.55:1, then 2.35:1, and now standardized as 2.39:1) obviously provided a significantly greater picture involvement than a 1.33:1 image at the same height. But Fox evaluated the ideal subtended screen angle to be 45 degrees at the optimum seat location.


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