It’s getting tougher to know the real size of TV screens. TV sellers are misleading consumers into believing the actual “active” screen is bigger than it really is. In 2008, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued guidelines to TV makers and sellers to ensure consumers aren’t deceived. A search of TV seller and maker websites found a significant number of them not complying, providing confusing or inaccurate screen size information or burying the correct data on secondary pages past the “add to cart” page.

Deceived consumers believe they are getting a better buy finding a bigger screen HDTV for less money than competing models.

Learn the FTC rules and see examples of screen size inflation after the break.

Shopping for the right HDTV is not an easy task. You need to make many decisions: picking the technology (LED lit LCD, LCD or plasma), features, resolution (720p or 1080p) refresh rates and more. Screen size should be based on your budget and viewing distance (see our chart and article here).

In the last few years TV makers and sellers have adopted the term “XX Class” to show screen size. If a TV is a 40” Class don’t assume the screen is actually 40 inches (all HDTV screens are stated in the diagonal) of crisp, clear HDTV images. Many HDTV screens are not the same size as stated. We contacted an FTC representative to learn the guidelines. The FTC spokesman told HD Guru:

If a size “Class” is listed it must be no greater than one-half of an inch larger than the HDTVs actual active area
If the “Class” is greater, the real screen size must be accurately listed right along with the class listing. This rule applies to all advertisements, websites, and anywhere the TV is offered for sale.

We quickly found a Sceptre 40” Class TV offered by Walmart. After contacting Walmart they corrected the screen listing by including the true measurement of 38.5 inches. However, Walmart continues to violate the FTC guidelines by calling it a “40-inch class” while it is really “39-inch class.” This is no insignificant amount of real estate. The difference between 38.5 inches (actual) and 40-inches diagonal is  over 50 square inches in area. This is more than an iPad screen.

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TV maker Sceptre list models as a “40 series.” You must go to the specifications page to learn that the true screen size only measures 38.5 inches. The FTC spokesman stated the actual screen size should be listed on the product listing page too.

Do Other Major TV Sellers Follow the FTC Rules?

Nope. We checked other 39-inch class (38.5-inch actual size) HDTVs sold by WalMart, Sears, Best Buy and HH Gregg.   Here’s what we found.



Wrongly lists this model as a 40″ Class, when it is really a 39-inch class according to FTC guidelines. We contacted WalMart public relations for a response, however we have not received one.


Lists the screen size class but does not show the actual size, which is 38.5-inches.

The Seiki website also misstates the screen size.




Best Buy

Best Buy does not state the actual size on the listing page as required. It also misleads consumers by posting the inflated actual screen size in its weekly 9/2/12 circular (above) for its “39-inch Class Insignia, which is really 38.5-inches. They also incorrectly list the actual screen size of a 39-inch Haier.

We received a response to our inquiry from Best Buy corporate spokesperson by email regarding its non-compliance to the FTC guideline. It states:

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We do adhere to FTC regulations and guidelines as they pertain to screen sizes for TVs. You were correct in that our 9/2 circular had
inaccurate information with regard to the Insignia 39″. This was unfortunately a human error and is listed correctly on our website. The issue with the Haier 39″ TV is currently being
corrected on our website as well.”

We checked back on the BB website and found the prime listings of HDTVs still do not contain the actual screen size, even though you can “add to cart” the item without the disclosure. We asked why and will publish a response when we receive it.

HH Gregg

Regional retailer HH Gregg website lists two sale HDTVs  The LG is in FTC compliance with proper disclosure showing the actual screen size,  the Hisense is not. It  should read 39″ Class (38.5″ diagonal).


Prospective HDTV purchasers should go to the manufacturer’s website to attempt to learn the true active screen measurement before making a buying decision. If it is not given, bring a tape measure to the dealership to confirm the true size of the picture .  In some cases, this is the only way to know the real screen size.  You may learn the sale ad is inaccurate and the TV for its give true screen size is not the bargain you thought it was.


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