The viewing angle we list is the angle at which a TV's picture quality starts to degrade when it is watched from the side. A TV will always have the best possible picture quality when viewed directly opposite the screen. The farther you move to the side, the more the colors will fade.
If you need a TV that looks good from various positions in a room – perhaps in a wide living room space – a wide viewing angle is very important. It doesn’t matter much, though, if you sit pretty much directly opposite the screen.
We measure each TV’s viewing angle ourselves through five metrics, as the angle stated by manufacturers is vastly inflated. We also provide video of the TV’s picture through different perspectives and verify the type of panel used by LED TVs.
Update 02/28/2019: The viewing angle test has been overhauled, as part of Test Bench 1.3. Color measurement is now divided into Color Washout (chroma) and Color Shift (hue), and the Gamma Shift at an angle is now tested. All 2018 TVs have been retested with the new method.
Update 01/10/2017: We are now testing the viewing angles of TVs with a spectrophotometer using three different metrics: Color shift, brightness, and black level. OLED TVs are impacted the most by this update since they tend to show a shift in color at an angle. We retested most 2016 models.
If you usually watch TV alone, you most likely do not need a wide viewing angle. You should just turn the television to face you directly. People with multiple couches or seats are most likely to benefit from a wider viewing angle.
For those setups that can benefit from wider viewing angles, the difference that they make is pretty significant. Compare a narrow viewing angle on the above left to a wider angle on the above right, and you can see how there is more leeway offered to sit and enjoy good picture quality, outside of the TV’s axis.
Our viewing angle measurements represent how wide of an angle a TV can be viewed from before the picture quality begins to suffer. A larger number represents the TV having a better viewing angle, up to a maximum of 70° (because that's as far as we measure).
Our viewing angle video demonstrates the comparative quality of a TV’s video played at different angles. If you want to get an idea of what a TV will look like at the precise angles required by your seating arrangements, this video will be a big help. Below are two examples, one of a very narrow viewing angle (left), and one of quite a wide one (right).
For this test, we just display an image on the TV’s screen, film the TV from a fixed position, and rotate the TV so that the full range of angles is filmed. We always maintain the same distance-to-screen-size ratio of 0.15 feet per diagonal inch, as this allows us to compare TVs of different sizes fairly. For the sake of reference, this means a distance of about 8 feet for a 55" TV.
To measure the viewing angle's effect on colors, we measure a pure red, pure blue and pure green SDR slide at 10° increments with a CR-100 colorimeter. We then convert the colorimeter's measurements to the CIE LCh (ab) color space, which gives the Lightness (L), Chroma (C) and Hue (h) of each color; the Chroma component measures how saturated or colorful the color appears. To find the Color Washout angle, we normalize each color's chroma values at each angle by the chroma at 0°, then find the angle at which the first color fades to 80% of its original chroma. Every TV's colors fade at an angle, but some are better than others.
For the Color Shift, we use the same measurements as for Color Washout but instead look at the Hue component (h), which represents what color each color looks like (ex. pure yellow is at ~90° of hue, pure green is ~180°). To measure the Color Shift angle, we find the angle at which the first color's hue changes by 3°; this means that the color has started to change, such as blue becoming more green-ish.
To measure the viewing angle's effect on grayscale performance, we measure black, white, and a series of gray slides (20%, 40%, 60%, 80%) at 10° angles, then calculate the Lightness (L) of each slide. For the Brightness Loss angle, we find the angle at which the white slide drops to 75% of its original lightness.
Our Black Level Raise measurement is the angle at which blacks double in lightness. This greatly deteriorates the picture quality since it effectively halves the contrast ratio and makes the blacks look gray. This is more of an issue on VA type LCDs.
To measure the Gamma Shift angle, we calculate the lightness position of each gray shade between the white and black levels at each angle, then find the angle at which the first gray shade shifts its relative position by 3%. The dotted lines on the lightness plot represent the ideal case, where each gray shade would be if the TV's gamma didn't change at an angle; any deviation from the dotted line is visible as gamma shift. TV's with VA panels are the most affected by this gamma shift.
For LCD TVs, the LCD panel technology they use is a big determining factor for how well a TV retains quality at an angle, and represents a good starting point for people who want a TV that looks good from the side. There are two main types used in TVs: IPS and VA; you can learn more about the different LCD types here.
IPS maintains good color accuracy at an angle: its black levels remain nearly constant at all angles, and its colors' hues' only shift very gradually at an angle. The downside is that the contrast ratio in front is not as good as that of VA (see our contrast ratio measurements).
VA loses contrast rapidly at an angle, resulting in a dull/whitish picture when you watch the TV from the side. The upside of a VA panel is the deeper blacks you'll enjoy when sitting directly opposite the screen.
Because of the nature of the technology, LCD/LED TVs have problems with their picture quality at an angle. The LCD layer doesn't produce its own light but rather filters the white light coming from the back of the TV (generated by the backlight). The LCD layer has a thickness, which means it blocks some of the light coming through, and more at an angle.
More specifically, VA LCDs will mostly be affected by their black levels being raised when viewed at an angle but also suffer the most from color shift. IPS TVs will instead have a constant black level but will lose luminance the greater the angle of viewing is.
Plasma and OLED panels do not have these problems because they emit their own light. OLED however, like LED TVs, will have color shift when viewed at an angle, so they aren't perfect.
Unfortunately, you can't do anything to improve the viewing angle on a TV. If you’re experiencing sub-par picture quality because the viewing angle of your TV doesn’t match your seating arrangements, you will need to move either the TV or your seats to improve the results.
The viewing angle of a TV represents the limit of its optimal picture quality. Sit at a position at a wider angle than that of its viewing angle, and you will experience worse picture. This isn’t important for people who sit right in front of their TV but makes a difference for setups with seating off to the sides, like some living rooms. We take videos to illustrate TVs’ viewing angles, and then also verify what the type of panel technology is, as well as find the specific angle at which picture begins to degrade.
Unfortunately, there is no way to improve the viewing angle on a TV. If you need a wide viewing angle, make sure to get a TV that meets that need. If you already have a TV that doesn’t cut it for viewing angle, the only option is to rearrange your setup.