How Big Does a Screen Need to Be to Watch a Film?

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If the iPhone 5's bigger 4-inch screen size still isn't enough to appease movie watchers, how big will phones have to go before people start watching? A lot bigger than even the biggest of smartphones now. Though The New York Times's David Pogue insists that this 4-inch phone 5 has a "perfect fit for HDTV shows and a better fit for movies" in his case for watching watching movies on phones, that argument doesn't contend with the fact that most mobile video viewing doesn't include watching two-hour feature length films. Neilsen stats from March (shown in this chart) found that the majority of mobile video viewing happens on YouTube, home of the short viral video. And those numbers include the many phones with the biggest screens, like Samsung's many gargantuan offerings. Contrary to what Pogue hopes, we already know 4 doesn't do it for us. So, then, what size does work?

40-60 inches: Okay, but that's huge. The biggest film snobs would say that the littlest possible screen suitable for the art of a movie is an HD TV writes The Telegraph's Andrew Lowry. He argues that size, since filmmakers shot certain angles, picked certain lighting, and fashioned certain outfits "under the assumption that you’ll see their work on a screen the size of a bus, or at the very least one of today’s hefty TVs." We took that to mean the two biggest size categories at Best Buy, pictured right.  That sentiment is matched by director James Cameron, who told people not to see his movie Avatar on an iPhone or laptop because the characters would show up too small. Filmmaker David Lynch also felt that way, as the clip below shows. Though, a 50 inch phone sounds a bit unwieldy. 

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15 inches is too small. Anyway, as we know people who aren't the biggest of film snobs deign to click on a movie on not so huge television sets. But, how little can we go? The numbers show that even on laptop and desktop sized screens, video viewing doesn't amount to that many movies per month. Compared to the hundreds of hours Americans spend watching video on TV, which can account for countless flicks, even the heaviest viewing demographic subset, guys 18 to 49 who watch seven hours a month, aren't spending enough time per month to get many movies in. And of course, that doesn't account for all the short-form minutes they're watching on site like YouTube, as this Comscore data shows

7-10 inches: Could work, still big. Just because that laptop hasn't gotten people into watching movies, the tablet gives us more hope, with the latest Comscore stats showing tablets get people watching much more than smartphones. Unlike smartphones or laptops, this Viacom survey showed people use tablets for longer form viewing, like television shows, which gives us hope for movie watching. More Comscore numbers found that people watch 28 percent longer on tablets than on desktop computers. 

2-5.5 inches? Like we said, movie watching just isn't a thing that's happening on smartphones, not even the huge 5.50-inch Samsung Galaxy Note II. So, until we see a 7-inch iPhone 6, also known as the rumored iPad Mini, we don't expect people to take up Pogue's advice, which involves holding a tiny 4-inch screen 15 inches from your face for two hours. 


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.