Jerry Vestal doesn’t even let himself dream. “Do I want an 80-inch TV?” the Quincy resident asked rhetorically. “Yeah, but I’d never be able to pull that off.”
The obstacle? His loving spouse. Vestal — a television salesman no less — did manage to finagle himself a 55-inch set, but only by offering to give his 47-incher to his wife’s parents. “I said, ‘Look at the TV your dad is watching. It’s a piece of junk. He should have better.’” Even over the phone, Vestal’s grin was audible. “I played that angle.”
When it comes to buying a monster-screen television, as many a married person has learned, there may be one thing more important than a credit card: an angle. Televisions are growing — over the past five years, sales of televisions 50 inches or larger have nearly doubled — and with them, so is the old argument about how big is too big.
With a prototype for a 110-inch Samsung television out there, and pre-Super Bowl television-buying frenzy under way, where’s NFL referee Ed Hochuli when you need him?
Not at Best Buy in the Fenway, where a recent afternoon found Darrin Leverett, a designer from Dorchester, television shopping — decidedly without his wife by his side. “It works better if I don’t take her with me,” he said as he checked out an 80-inch Sharp, on sale for $3,499.99.
“This would look big to her,” he said. Things work better, he explained, if he buys a television and then shows her how good it looks in place. His wife could not be reached for comment.
Just to give you a sense of the enormousness: An 80-inch television is so big that if 6-foot-6-inch Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski were diving for a ball, he would be shown life size.
Statistics on gender-based television-size preferences are hard to come by. But anecdotal information from local television salespeople, designers, installers, and sports bar managers indicates it’s more often the women who are trying to hold the line on television size.
In Jamaica Plain, Amanda Fiori has been fighting off a larger television for years.
“I don’t think the television should be the focal point of the house,” she said. Fiori, a regional account manager for a California winery, and her husband own a 35-inch set, but he craves a 42-inch screen, which she fears will be a gateway to something even larger. “You get used to the size you own,” she said.
But pity — if only until the Super Bowl is over — the man without his own man cave in which to install a super-colossal screen. The following scenario happened not once but twice during the regular NFL season at the Braintree Brewhouse. At the end of every Patriots game, the bar raffled off a 55-inch television. In two cases, the winner proclaimed his desire to trade in the 55-inch set for an 80-inch model, an idea instantly quashed by his spouse.
Asked if there was a lesson there, bar co-owner Alex Kesaris didn’t miss a beat. “Don’t tell her about the TV until it’s too late,” he said. “Until it’s installed.”
But it may already be too late — for spouses who consider pumped-up televisions vulgar, that is. In 1997, the average size of a television bought by a consumer was 22 inches. Today it’s 36 or 37 inches, according to the Consumer Electronics Association , which predicts that by 2016 the average television sold will be 40 inches.
As televisions have gotten bigger, they’ve gotten less expensive, putting them in reach of average Joes, the kind of Joes whose homes don’t boast separate screening rooms.
“In 2000, a 36-inch tube television might have cost you $1,000 to $1,500,” said Paul Gagnon, director of global television research for NPD DisplaySearch, a market research firm. “Today, that same amount of money buys you a 60-inch flat-panel television — and it’s high definition.”
But one person’s exciting viewing opportunity is another’s decorating challenge. Is your home even large enough for the television of your dreams? Wall space is one issue, but the other is distance.
One viewing formula holds that a couch potato with a 60-inch screen needs to be 10 feet — 120 inches — from the television. That’s two inches of distance for every inch of television, something hard to come by in the small rooms that New England housing stock is famous for.
“If you are too close, “ Gagnon said, “you start to see the individual pixels, and the picture quality degrades quickly.”
Here’s another issue. As televisions slim down, they’re increasingly being mounted on the wall, often above a mantle. That’s leading to a television-related health challenge that has nothing to do with weight gain. The opposite of “text neck” — seen on those who stare obsessively at their mobile phones, “TV neck” comes from watching a three-hour football game or a movie while looking up the whole time.
“I’ve had people tell me they wouldn’t put the television up there again,” said Anthony Lamacchia, of McGeough Lamacchia Realty, in Waltham. “It looks cool, but it’s not as comfortable.”
The normalization of massive screens has caused what mental-health professionals may someday recognize as screen dysmorphic disorder, which causes sufferers wrongly to see enormous televisions as small.
“I’m sorry we didn’t get the 60-inch,” said Ken Richards, a retired Toyota dealership manager from the South End. He recently bought a 55-inch set for his second home in West Palm Beach, Fla. The set seemed ample at the time of purchase — a mere two months ago — but now it looks puny. “Once you see the 70- and 80-inch sets . . . ” he said, wistfully.
K.C. Wolbert, executive director of Inner Media Solutions, in Framingham, recalled a customer who recently upgraded from a 70-inch to a 90-inch — during the installation. “Once you put it on the wall,” Wolbert said, “the TV looks smaller than people think it will.”
Or not. In Newton, jewelry designer Emily Kuvin, who has been engaged in a television-in-the-bedroom conversation with her husband for the entire duration of their marriage, says she would never allow an 80-inch television to get near one of her walls.
“It would have a bigger presence in our home than any of the humans,” she said. “Having my kids addicted to their phones and laptops and tablets is bad enough, but this would be the mother of all screens.”Beth Teitell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @beth teitell.