Bigger TVs, smaller houses: how does it affect our eyes and neck? | Digital Transformation | Technology

A young woman watches television at her home in Madrid.
A young woman watches television at her home in Madrid.Victor Sainz

Front row seats at the movies are often the last to be sold. The experience of watching a movie from there, especially in older theaters, is usually not very pleasant: you have to bend your neck to see the screen and, being too close, you can’t see the whole image at once . Now that the main television manufacturers use the possibility of turning our living room into a movie theater as a hook, is it possible that if we do not take into account the distance at which we are going to be able to stand from the screen, we will end up again like in that dreaded first row?

The numbers move in opposite directions. For one thing, televisions are getting bigger. “The sales trend is increasingly larger sizes, highlighting the range of televisions from 65 inches onwards,” says Ignacio Herrero Alegret, Product Manager Brown Goods of MediaMarkt Iberia. However, those 65 inches that not long ago were the maximum size limit are found with smaller and smaller homes. According data from the Ministry of Public Works, the average area of ​​new homes has been falling for several years. Especially in the case of flats, in which 66% of the Spanish population lives, this new construction area went from an average of 118.7 square meters in 2017 to 108.1 between January and October 2021.

Many of the websites for electronics manufacturers and sellers include a guide to choosing a television. Although in all of them they talk about optimal viewing distance, it is not something that is usually very prominent. In the case of Samsung, for example, in the section dedicated to size, they indicate: “General rule: The bigger, the better.” In the next point they already talk about the recommended viewing distance. “Samsung’s recommendation is that the screen occupies 40º of the viewer’s field of vision,” explains Daniel Pamiés, product manager at Samsung Electronics. To calculate the distance from that recommendation, “you just have to multiply the inches of the TV by 3.04, and you get the centimeters of distance. If the TV is 55 inches, it is 1.7 meters; 65 inches is 2 meters away, 75 inches is 2.3 meters, and 85 inches is 2.6 meters,” he says.

Recommendations differ between brands. On the Panasonic page, for example, they distinguish between HD (high definition) and 4K content. Thus, 65 inches in HD should be about 4 meters and in 4K only 2.5. That is, the distance would depend on the resolution and not so much on the size of the television. What is taken into account is being able to be close and see the images clearly, without distinguishing the pixels, and not so much that our eyes will suffer or not.

Eyes that don’t encompass everything

“Our eyes make jumps called saccades to be able to visualize an image and receive all its information in detail,” explains the optometrist Carmen Bilbao. With the head static, the eyes move “quickly and comfortably”, but if the image is more than 30º wide [de nuestro campo visual], we shake our heads. “If a very large TV is purchased and we look at it closely, we should move our heads more to see the whole image, the saccadic movements will be larger and it will be more uncomfortable for us,” he points out, although he also concedes that this large screen will introduce us to a “more real” world. “Your entire field of vision is focused on one large, dynamic image with less outside interference,” he says.

Not being able to see the entire screen in “PPM (primary gaze position = straight ahead)” will also lead to other problems by forcing us to move not only our eye muscles, but also other muscles such as our neck or back, he adds. the optician-optometrist Adriana Tempranos, from Optim+. “These repetitive movements and abnormal positions can cause discomfort that should be reviewed by specialists in ophthalmology or traumatology,” he says.

She recommends a distance of between 3.5 and 4.5 meters to watch a 75-inch television. Bilbao agrees, explaining that the ideal is to do the calculations focusing on the 30º field of view. And she clarifies how to do the math: “We should place a TV about twice as far from its diagonal”.

Beyond that necessary distance to be able to cover the entire image as a whole, is it harmful in itself to see the TV screen from too close? From Samsung, Pamiés ensures that all its televisions “are designed to protect eyesight without losing excellence.” Alegret, from Mediamarkt, points out that “especially in the high-end categories, most televisions have the function of automatic brightness regulation depending on the environment and the moment in which the television is being watched”, which It would help to tire the eyes less.

However, there is another problem that no longer depends so much on the screen itself, nor on the distance, but on what it means for our eyes to be fixed on a single nearby point for so long. “The vision in a resting situation is prepared to visualize figures in the distance. When we look at a stimulus up close, our eyes perform an additional action that is accommodation. Its about zoom of the camera of our eyes and it is activated when an image is presented at less than six meters”, explains Bilbao. That is, what we do throughout the day with any type of screen.

This excess of accommodation, according to the optometrist Juan Gilberto Moreno, of Trinidad federoptics, can “lead to symptoms such as asthenopic pain, blurred vision, itching and in some cases even double vision.” In addition, by continually looking at screens, both near and far, we blink less, which “can cause the typical discomfort of dry eye or, if the person already suffers from it, increase their symptoms,” says Adriana Temprano. Regarding this dry eye, Bilbao indicates that it already affects between 5% and 30% of the population over 50 years of age. In addition, the expert adds that there is a risk of increased myopia. “There are studies that estimate that in 2050 half of the population will be myopic,” she says.

On the other hand, Juan Gilberto Moreno indicates that it is also necessary to take special care with children and pay attention to the distance at which they watch television and other devices, since, in addition to the typical symptoms of visual fatigue, “they could develop myopia”. At that distance it is also possible to detect warning signs, adds Early. “If a child gets too close to the television, it may be a sign of a possible refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism) or another visual or ophthalmological abnormality,” he says.

Both for televisions and for other types of screens, Moreno summarizes the factors that can damage or strain the eyes in three: “The distance from the device, the viewing time and also the ambient lighting influence.” That is, the size of the television is important, but it is not the only thing.

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