Can using a huge smart TV as a display harm you? [Setups]

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That 55-inch OLED smart TV may be far enough away because the desk is 40 inches deep and the user said he tends to lean back a bit.
That 55-inch OLED smart TV may be far enough away because the desk is 40 inches deep and the user said he tends to lean back a bit.
Photo: Altruistic-Yam8224@Reddit.com

Increasingly, gamers and other users replace traditional computer monitors with large smart TVs or ultra-wide monitors that eclipse screens like Apple’s 27-inch Studio Display and 32-inch Pro Display XDR in size. Today’s featured M2 Max Studio Display setup sports a 55-inch Samsung 8K OLED smart TV, for example.

Everybody loves plenty of screen real estate, but ergonomically speaking, is it healthy? Today’s setup represents the debate, offering pros and cons.

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M2 Max Mac Studio drives a massive, 55-inch Samsung 8K OLED Smart TV — but is it safe?

Canadian Redditor Altruistic-Yam8224 (“Yam”) showcased the impressive setup in a post entitled, “Mac Studio M2 and 8k screen.” He uses a powerful M2 Max Mac Studio (32GB RAM, 2TB SSD) to drive a mighty large external display that isn’t a traditional monitor. It’s a 55-inch Samsung 8K OLED Smart TV.

Here’s how Yam described his thought process in choosing an external display:

I had a decision to make. My previous Mac was a 27-inch iMac from 2017. I could …

  • Switch to 24 inch and 4.5K with the M1 iMac. Hard pass. I needed more screen real estate, not less.
  • Spend the $2,000 (CAD) for the Apple Studio display. Yes, this would be 5K, but screen-wise, it’s no improvement over the 27-inch iMac I’ve been using for the last seven years. “It’s like kissing your sister. You haven’t really made any progress.”
  • Get a 4K display in a larger size, but lower PPI. Not attractive after I’ve been spoiled by the 5K screen on the iMac.
  • Spend the big bucks for the Pro Display XDR. This would be an upgrade in both size and resolution (32 inches and 6k), but with a stand and tax, it costs $8,000 here in Canada.
  • Get this 8K TV for $999 at BestBuy across the border in Washington. Not necessarily the best for colour accuracy, but nothing I do requires that. It’s a little tall, but not excessively so.

And here’s his conclusion:

This was a no-brainer. 160 PPI means the screen is perceived as “Retina” from any distance greater than 55cm. I sit between 80cm and 150cm from it, depending on whether I’m sitting with good posture or slouching. Either way, text is perfectly legible, and very crisp.

This also means that my custom made teak desk is now functioning the way I originally designed it to, with the screen at the back of it. When I was using the 27-inch iMac on this desk, I had to pull it forward to about 50cm away from the front edge.

Then someone extolled the virtues of a 42-inch LG smart TV as a display. Yam replied, “I once had a 43-inch 4K TV that I used for years with my old 2013 trashcan Mac Pro, placed at the back of the same massive teak desk. It was a pleasure to use. I could wish that there was a 40-inch 8K screen available.”

But does a large smart TV display pose a health risk?

Yam seemed to anticipate some folks might wonder if peering at content in every corner of a giant smart TV screen might pose ergonomic problems like a sore neck or eye strain.

“I never understand why some use TVs as monitors, there’s a lot of problems and the huge size hurts necks and eyes,” one person said in a discussion that appeared well after Yam’s comments, below.

For those who have ergonomic concerns, note that ergonomics experts recommend a viewing distance of at least 87.5% of the monitor’s diagonal. For a 32-inch monitor, you need to sit 28 inches away. For a 40-inch monitor, that increases to 35 inches of viewing distance.

He said he’s not concerned in his situation because his large desk is 40 inches deep and his total distance away from the screen tends to be 51 to 55 inches.  So he wouldn’t have to turn his head to see everything.

“The entire monitor is within my 52-60 degree field of easy binocular vision without any neck movement at all,” he said. He pointed to a reference, too. And he even included photos of himself with a tape measure showing the distance from his screen to his head.

Dissension in the comments section

It's not easy to tell in a photo, but how readable does that text all over the screen look?
It’s not easy to tell in a photo, but how readable does that text all over the screen look?
Photo: Altruistic-Yam8224@Reddit.com

But some commenters weren’t buying it. A few of them said 27 inches is ideal for a display, with others favoring a maximum of 32 inches for virtually every use case, so why go huge?

And one particularly adamant commenter pointed to Yam’s own reference as proof he was mistaken or perhaps engaging in wishful thinking.

“These types of gigantic TVs used as monitors violate just about every tenet of ergonomic research unless they are comically far away from your seated position (like, think several feet away),” the commenter said. “Additionally, this also applies to the huge ultra-wide displays. Anything over ~32 inches is going to cause [repetitive strain injury] RSI and other injuries if used for daily work and general computing.”

And the commenter also made clear they spoke from painful experience as well as professional knowledge:

These kinds of over the top setups are impressive for pictures but lead to significant and possibly irreversible musculoskeletal and nerve damage issues. This is something I am intimately aware of not only as someone who has experienced severe RSI over the course of the past decade or so, but professionally as someone who works on products related to MSK and ergonomic injuries.

Because the use of mega screens in computer workstations — big smart TVs, ultra-wide screens and multiple screens covering a large area — is relatively new phenomena for average users, there aren’t a ton of clear warnings out there.

As the cited reference at the link above notes, big and wide screens may be less harmful for gamers than for users trying to read characters all over the screen. Proceed with caution, your mileage may vary.

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If you would like to see your setup featured on Cult of Mac, send some high-res pictures to info+setups@cultofmac.com. Please provide a detailed list of your equipment. Tell us what you like or dislike about your setup, and fill us in on any special touches, challenges and plans for new additions.

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