The only way to win is not to play

A group chat in which a friend with a 12,000-square-foot house describes his efforts at updating the home theater with built-in ceiling speakers:

  • friend: My house has built in 5.1 speakers in the ceiling, but I assume off-axis sound is crap?
  • friend: I really want Dolby Atmos now. It has real 360 degree placement and sky effects.
  • friend (1.5 hours later): Bought a Pioneer Elite 11.1 channel Dolby ATMOS receiver. 12 speakers and full virtual sound placement including above you. It’s going to be incredible.
  • me: we don’t have a TV

Separately, one of the advantages of living in an apartment complex/small town environment as we do is that kids can do some contemporary anthropology while out on dog walks. The 6-year-old, as part of a not-so-subtle lobbying campaign against domestic tyranny that is preventing him from watching beloved shows and movies, noted that everyone single apartment or house in the neighborhood has a TV and “they even have it on in the morning.” (we had a TV when we lived in Maskachusetts, but also a rule that we couldn’t watch anything until after dark)

Assuming that the kids can prevail over Senior Management, what size TV would make sense in our apartment? We have almost unlimited wall space for the TV. Viewing distance is 8-9′. There is no obvious place for rear channel speakers, so the sound would have to come from the TV itself or maybe some speakers on the furniture that holds up the TV.

THX says (scroll down), “we recommend you measure the distance between your couch and where your TV will be located (in inches). Then multiply that number by .835, and that should help you determine what screen size you should get.” But then they also say “or 4K or UHD TV sets, the process is a little different since the nearer you sit to these models, the more detail you’ll be able to pick up.” (and then they fail to disclose any process!)

The 0.835 factor works out to at least an 80″ TV and it would be at least 4K resolution so actually they are recommending something bigger than 80″ in our 1,950 square foot apartment! Maybe this 77″ LG OLED? Everyone who came over would say “Wow. You guys must really love watching TV!”

SMPTE uses a smaller factor. This calculator shows the alternatives. One could be nearly 11′ back from an 80-inch TV according to SMPTE (i.e., the people who make the movies), but to see every pixel with young eyes you’d want to get up to within 5′ of a 4K TV.

What about a 65″ TV that a more normal family might purchase? The above-cited calculator says that THX recommends sitting no more than 7.2′ away and SMPTE recommends no more than 8.8′ away.

What did my friend buy for his home theater? Sony 77-inch OLED for $3,000. (Runs the Google OS, so in the long run it will protect you from viewing harmful content, e.g., anything that suggests that weekly COVID-19 vaccines are not in an average 8-year-old’s best interest.) He also has an 86-inch LG “nanocell” TV that cost $1,800:

It is great in normal room light. It is tolerable in a dark room for most content. It was horrible for watching Jack Ryan Without Remorse on Netflix, as the entire movie was dark. Once you see the uneven lighting in the blacks, you can’t unsee them.

So, there are two solutions. One is the Samsung Neo QLED, which has enough local dimming to do a good job of helping black areas, but it is so close to the price of an OLED that I don’t think it makes sense, except again for daylight viewing.

For OLED, there are two to consider. Sony and LG. For 77 inch, Sony is $3000, and LG is $2900. For 83 inch, Sony is $8000 and LG is $5300. They are both great, but the Sony has a better processor and comes pre-calibrated. The LG comes set up for sports and needs a bunch of work to make it work as well as the Sony for movies. I ran a poll on a Facebook group for DolbyVision, and people there voted on the Sony by 2:1.


  • Wikipedia article on organic LEDs shows that the earliest producers of practical OLED panels are now irrelevant and/or actually bankrupt (e.g., Kodak (out of bankruptcy with a market cap comparable to a day of sales for the iPhone with its included camera), Pioneer (stopped making TVs in 2010; delisted in 2018), Sanyo (acquired by Panasonic))

36 thoughts on “The only way to win is not to play

  1. You go about choosing TV in the completely wrong way! All TVs come with software, aka crapware. You should choose which software is least objectionable, and then choose best TV within budget from this company. In any case picture will be gorgeous (some pundit alway can find some artifacts invisible to regular folks).

    Among Sony, Samsung and LG I think LG software is the most reasonable, thus LG OLED is the best choice. Get largest LG OLED within your budget.

    • I have the 2020 LG C series OLED TV. The picture is wonderful, but the software is shaky at best (not the actively horrendous mess that is Samsung, however, neither my wife nor mother were ever able to comprehend that UI on my old Samsung TV). I’m tempted to get a professional digital signage monitor for my next TV with no Smart TV functions to get in the way, and make it permanently connected to just one input, my AppleTV 4K.

      A big part of the TV makers’ business model nowadays is to have your TV spy over what you are watching and sell that information to advertisers, which is why the TV makes make it hard to impossible to opt-out of the allegedly smart TV features.

  2. As for the sound my advice is less relevant: I run 11.2 setup on Denon receiver on the main TV and stereo active speakers on gym TV (OLED and non-OLED LGs). This is uncommon path these days: it looks like if you get soundbar (from the *same company*, so it integrates well with TV), it will provide best mix of reasonable sound/ease of setup.

    • SK; why isn’t there a market for at least one TV that already has built-in reasonable quality speakers? They’re desperate to advertise slim dimensions, but then say “oh, by the way, you need to buy this other thing that we couldn’t be bothered to integrate”?

    • (Even if there is a TV with great speakers, but crappy software, would you still get it?)

      Most upscale TVs used to have reasonable speakers (and thus ugly grills below or on the sides), but current trend is to reduce bezels, and speakers are moved behind the screen in downfiring configuration. There are no miracles, and even voice range sounds not that good from them.

      I like good sound, so I always try to upgrade it, but I suspect that 99% of TV owners don’t care and just use TVs as is.

    • Martin-Logan makes wall-mounted flat electrostatic speakers. They’d probably cost more than the actual TV, prices start at $2000 per speaker. Oddly Quad doesn’t seem to have a comparable product, but Magnepan does.

      That said, sound quality contributes a lot to perceived image quality, oddly enough, so it may be worth it.

      For your apartment, 55″ to 65″ seems like a good size, anything above would be gross overkill. What no TV can do is fix the dearth of good content to watch. Despite all the money tech companies are pouring into the streaming wars, most is unwatchable, and the less said about the ad-infested wasteland that is live or cable TV, the better.

  3. If you get an OLED tv, be aware they are very susceptible to burn in if you watch a lot of channels with constant chyrons on the screen (I use the zoom feature to size it out of the screen). Otherwise the picture is phenomenal and I am very happy with my LG 65” set.

    • I decided not to worry about this and if burn-in is going to bother me, to get new TV. This decision made happier owner of my OLED 🙂

  4. 3 Years ago when I bought an LG OLED the LG and Sony had the exact same screen, just different software. Probably the same now.

    This year in a new house I bought a Samsung Frame TV which is not as good as OLED for picture but displays art when the TV is off (which is most of the time for me). You can’t display a continuous static picture on an OLED because of screen burn-in.

  5. Get a projector and a mechanized screen. Takes care of the issue of kids wanting to watch stuff while it’s still daytime. As a bonus, there won’t be an enormous black eyesore present at all times.

    And the best part – projectors don’t come with tons of crapware and direct access to brainwashing (aka “TV”).

  6. >> Assuming that the kids can prevail over Senior Management, what size TV would make sense in our apartment?

    Our Senior Management philosophy is similar to yours. Our TV room is about 11′ x 11′. Viewing distance is 9 feet. Our 54″ TCL 4K LED TV from Costco for $400 is awesome for viewing, and easily big enough. Wifi connection with built-in Roku results in no cables and a single remote. Sound quality, well, let’s just say the TV is very thin and light. It is worth adding that nobody has complained about the sound.

    Even with the 54″ TV at 9 feet, it dominates the room. I can’t imagine putting a 90″ TV (9 * 12 * 0.835) in this room!

  7. Just got exactly that lg evo G tv you mentioned – our first tv after 7 years in this house without one. The flush mounting is actually awesome as is the display.

  8. > we had a TV when we lived in Maskachusetts, but also a rule that we couldn’t watch anything until after dark

    Since your family is not a brainwashed TV addict and is not trying to keep up with the Jones ‘s next door, I would get a cheap TV, any cheap TV with a decent size and call it a day. It will do the job just fine and chances are it will last you far longer than one of those fancy high tech TVs. All that cool stuff, will be cool for a week before you get board of it.

    I still have my 46″ Scepter TV that I got almost 15 years ago from Microcenter on black Friday; it is still working just fine. While folks that I know have either upgraded multiple times to a newer TV or their high end TV that they paid 2x of what I paid simply stopped working many moons ago.

    My philosophy: Don’t spend money on things just to show off or because family, friends and neighbors have the latest of unless what you are getting is for something that will improve your everyday life quality or is an investment for you or your family.

  9. I’m not in the market for a TV as good as almost any of the ones discussed here, but the depth of knowledge is wonderful and I’ve bookmarked this post. Sometimes people ask my opinion on these things and this has been very helpful.

    I would never have even considered a projector but now I can see why some people do.

    The Sony A80J Bravia XR can be had in 65-inch version for a lot less money, and then you spend the difference on HT-A9 speaker system. Just four enclosures and a little black box costs a lot of money, but the review says that each driver (4×3) is independently amplified. If each unit is identical it should be pretty easy to diagnose if any of them stop working correctly. Has anyone really done a tear-down to talk about the drivers and amplifiers? This site has a cutaway but not very much in terms of technical analysis. This is one case where I’d like to know what I’m getting for my $1800.

    And the reviewer says the SW5 subwoofer for another $700 is “not an option.” Well.

    Here’s what I’d love to see: Someone smart and dedicated takes the HT-A9 and SW5 apart and finds a way to build alternate enclosures. I wonder what the degree of difficulty is – at least for the subwoofer? What if you could add this 400-watt Klipsch to the system for $189 plus some custom little box? Am I dreaming? Has that kind of thing been impossibilified?

    How long will these systems last? Five years of useful viewing and listening before they’re obsolete?

  10. “It was horrible for watching Jack Ryan Without Remorse on Netflix..” someone at Prime Video is glad this bad experience is being attributed to Netflix.

  11. Beware of huge TV constantly on. It correlates with learning, behavioral and lifestyle problems in growing children. I could compare families with over-achieving parents that had large TVs always on and regular parents with TV usages controlled and minimized – and overachieving parents’ children had all kinds of problems which were unthinkable for either of the parents, with younger children who were exposed from early childhood having more learning and mental issues the older children who were exposed starting preteen years. Other families with controlled TV were more or less OK. My observations did not have scientific controls but I would not risk it anyway.

    • LSI: I am informed by America’s best public health minds that, to the contrary, children thrive when their schools, sports, and other in-person gathering opportunities are shut down for at least a year and they’re more or less forced to stay home and watch TV.

    • Nowadays TVs are not the problem anymore. They are replaced by devices. And you can’t get kids off devices completely since they have school-issued laptops now.

    • I am observing children use of devices and they are not as bad as large screen TVs.
      1st, kids play games that at least give some logical and device operator skills. There are good math or science games. Strategy games are too logical. Game also teach economy as some games use game backs creatively.
      2nd, games are free of stupid TV indoctrination and ads that are hurtful for child brain – remember, their “info” becomes children default knowledge and position, before he/she studies any philosophy, literature or political science.
      3rd, devices tend to be small and do not take over all senses such as home theater 80 inch TV screen with surround sound system
      And absolutely, devices need to be parent-monitored for better use.

    • LSI: #3 is very important. I also feel that watching a movie in a small window on YouTube is less detrimental than being immersed by a huge screen and surround sound.

      If children must have a device, a computer without Internet is probably best. Of course children are to televisions like pigs are to truffles, so they might find one via social engineering (strategically befriend one of the more fortunate neighbor kids).

  12. Inre: The history of OLED (or P-OLEDs): Very few people remember the name of this company. I was talking about this article earlier today with my father … and he remembers them. He says they got royally screwed, by companies like Kyocera among others, who basically stole their IP and left them high ‘n dry.

    Cambridge Display Technology. I don’t know how true that is, but maybe someone else here does:
    “CDT was spun out in 1992 from the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, and floated on the NASDAQ National Market in 2004. We became part of Sumitomo Chemical in 2007.”

  13. One serious “audiophilic” question I have (and probably just showing my ignorance): If these speaker systems like the HT-A9, etc., are making the Great Wireless Leap with their advanced signal processing, what are the consequences in terms of sound quality, interference, and the possibility of cross-talk between systems set up in adjacent areas of the home, or in densely-packed apartments?

    And what will the consequences be for cable manufacturers?

    Has any good audiophile outfit really tackled this subject? Are high-fidelity wireless speakers the last nail in the coffin for companies that make speaker cables? I assume the wireless signal is purely digital, and the HT-A9 seems to do some “miraculous” things with those four (or five with the subwoofer) little enclosures.

    Do conversion systems exist so that you can take your old-but-still-functional wired speakers and use them in a wireless setup?

    I ask because a number of years ago, I assembled a pair of 88-41 HUMAN Speakers ( ), which I still enjoy. If I wanted to upgrade my audio system, make it wireless and compatible with a new TV, for example, is that possible?

    • If you’re accustomed to the great sound that only $1,150 audiophile HDMI cables (example: ) can provide, wireless is potentially upsetting. Your signal will be going through the same unconditioned luminiferous aether as a crummy mobile phone call (and we all know how bad those are).

      (from an audiophile perspective, the great work done by gender barrier-shattering physicists Albertina Michelson and Edwina Morley was inconclusive ( ). What would fine-tune the HT-A9 sound is a polarized luminiferous aether generator to keep the wireless waves aligned.)

    • @philg: Hmm. I guess you’re telling me: “It depends on the degree to which the size of one’s bank account influences the properties of the luminiferous ether where their audio system is installed.” I’ll keep that in mind!

      As you can probably tell from my choice of HUMAN speakers, not only is my bank account modest, I tend to gravitate toward solutions that are “Pretty darn good, made by a guy who really cares about his products. But since ordinary people can understand and afford them, they might not make the pages of a high-end magazine very often.”

      By the way, I was *astounded* by the improvement in the luminiferous ether that occurred when I received my new Samsung A42 5G. A “midrange” phone in every respect, but the sound quality of the calls is leaps and bounds better than my old Galaxy S4. It even sounded better in Lexington, and I couldn’t imagine it was possible to improve the ether there!

    • Alex,

      Phil is joking in Sokal’s style. Sokal used this quote from Derrida:
      “The Einsteinian constant[the speed of light] is not a constant, is not a center. It is the very concept of variability”.

      “$1,150 audiophile HDMI cables” make as much sense as the totality of Derrida’s work.

      On a serious note, in my opinion, Sonos may be an ok solution for integrating an old analogue speaker although a “cheap” Sonos system is rather overpriced too (but not as much as the notorious $1 audio cables, preferably made of gold):

  14. Any of the mid-range or higher Sonys. The best color and picture by a long shot. You can get a great 65in for less than $700.00. Software is fine, but I run an Amazon Firestick anyway,,,it’s just easier. Sound is fine.

  15. I assume the children have as much access as they wish to a computer with internet. They can then indulge is as much (or more) content than on a standard TV. So I really don’t see the big deal. The screen size?

    • Domestic tyranny, unfortunately for the subjects, extends to a denial of access to both Windows 10 and Windows 11. Even after the last Bitcoin is mined and GPUs are once again available, a PC is out of the question!

    • @Philg: What are you trying to do, raise the last normal children on the face of the Earth? Lol.

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