For many families, the big-screen TV has become the contemporary fireplace -- the focal point of the room and the spot where the family gathers.
The challenge is to get it installed to ensure the best viewing without wrecking your home decor.
Just in time for Father's Day, here are some tips.
Hide or hang?
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Mark Langos, who heads his own interior design firm in Los Angeles, reports that on the West Coast the big-screen television is treated as "a fact of life and work of art." Most often he prefers hanging it on a wall to save space. Langos, who favors clean, contemporary designs, advises against putting the TV in a packed armoire where other objects may distract from the screen.
"It's generational," said Scott Salvator, a New York City-based designer. He finds that clients over 45 want to hide the set, so for them he will design a custom cabinet or select one ready-made. Media cabinets are available from many sources including stores like Ikea and Pottery Barn.
In a media room he designed for a family in New Jersey, Salvator made the TV a star, hanging it above a fireplace and framing it with the surrounding paneling. For those without a separate media room, study or family room, he says, "the living room is 'every room.' It is the largest room in the house. Put the TV there and dress the room down to an informal decor so it really gets used."
For those situations, Scott recommends country style as "easy to do, happy and forgiving of stains."
Best viewing distance?
Most TVs perform best when viewed straight on. The screen size should depend on the viewer's distance from it.
Stuart Silloway, training manager for consumer electronics at Samsung, recommends measuring the distance from viewer to screen and dividing it by three to get the screen size. If it's 120 inches from eye to TV, for example, you should have a 40-inch set.
The feel will be like sitting in the back third of a movie theater, he says. If you prefer sitting closer to the front, adjust the formula accordingly.
Scott Salvator has a sofa facing a TV on a wall in his office so his clients can try out the viewing distance. You can try this at a neighbor's house or even in a store. "Kids," Salvator said, "generally like to be right up close to the TV."
While a TV usually should be placed eye-level from a seated position, in bedrooms it generally should be somewhat higher, to be viewed from the bed without craning your neck.
Langos recommends putting the TV on an adjustable mount on the wall that can tilt or swivel. There are motorized versions that may be operated from a remote.
What about the wires?
A tangle of wires can scar the look of a room. When possible, make them disappear by running them behind the wall or, with the proper equipment, you can have all the apparatus in a different room or in a closet.
According to Silloway, with dry wall construction, running the wires behind the wall is a relatively simple process that most professional installers can manage, and if you are handy you can do it yourself. Plaster walls present a greater challenge.
"Always make sure the installer you hire is bonded and insured," he said. For those whose budgets allow it, media systems may be integrated with lighting and window shades, all of which may be operated remotely.
For clients with a designated media room, Salvator has installed tiered seating like a movie theater.
But for most people, a comfortable sofa and swivel chairs with an ottoman serve well. An upholsterer can convert your favorite chair to a swivel.
"The darker the room, the better the image," Silloway said. He recommends installing blackout shades and minimizing any lighting that might reflect off the screen. However, "even movie theaters have some ambient light," Langos says.
He suggests putting lights on dimmers.
Consider the time of day when you do most of your TV viewing. If it is at night, you probably do not need blackout shades.