Don’t sit too close to the TV or you’ll go blind. Remember those words of warning from days gone by? It wasn’t true then (sorry, Mom), and it’s definitely not true now. Televisions just keep getting bigger, and technology is making the picture clearer with each passing month. Finding a location that marries good viewing and a well-designed room isn’t the chore it once was.
Whether you own a single TV or have one for every room of the house, there are things to keep in mind for getting the most out of a visual experience.
How big is too big? There’s a calculation that is often used to determine screen size relative to its distance from the seating. But new flat-panel TVs are so advanced it may be time to throw that formula away. "Get the largest TV that fits your room decor and your budget," advises Gary Yacoubian, president of MyerEmco AudioVideo, a nine-store audio/video specialty chain in the Washington, D.C., area. "This gives you the most immersive experience possible."
The sitting distance matters less with digital TVs, especially high-definition ones. Picture quality is so precise and colors so saturated that images are crystal-clear, even close up. Flat-panel TVs have a greater viewing angle, making sitting to the side a less compromising experience.
It’s important to note that a complete home theater amounts to more than a TV alone. When watching a movie, audio is half the experience. While it’s tempting to make do with the speakers that are already integrated into the TV, it’s a mistake. Invest in a home-audio system, and stick to the same general placement rules as with the TV.
But that’s a different story. This one is about viewing, and to really get the most out of your TV, mount it on the wall. It not only looks great when turned on, but it is even attractive when off. Wall mounts keep the screen flush to the wall when desired, and articulating arms can move the screen to allow for changes in seating.
If you’re a diehard "hide the TV" sort, or just want to vary things from room to room, cabinets made expressly for flat-panel TVs are less bulky than the armoires of old. Some have motorized mounts or mimic TV mounting with an arm attachment or back panel that blends in with the backdrop.
Consider having a cabinet custom made or a vintage one retrofitted to suit your media needs. Bureaus, credenzas, or buffets make great media cabinets. Just be sure to allow for cords and air filtration in the back. Consider mounting a power strip inside the cabinet. It consolidates cords plugged into the wall, and also lets you turn off all the components with the flick of a switch—an energy-saving feature, especially during vacations. Work with a custom furnituremaker for the project, and ask about installing speaker screens in place of cabinet door panels. This allows your remote control to clearly communicate with components behind the doors.
Finding the right spot . . .
Line of sight
The TV should be as close as possible to eye level when viewers are seated, with speakers at ear level. This relieves neck strain and makes watching much more pleasant.
You don’t need heavy velvet draperies for a good cinematic experience, but blocking out natural light and minimizing reflections from windows will make a difference in image quality. Make sure lights in the room can be dimmed.
Sitting two times the distance relative to screen size is a good general rule. For a 42-inch TV, seating should be about 7 feet away.
Ideally, TV viewing should be straight on. Many room arrangements, however, dictate TV placement in a corner or off-center. Choose a wall mount that lets you move and adjust the screen to offset awkward placement.
What’s above your mantel?
If you have a flat-panel TV mounted above the fireplace, you’re in good company. The wall above the mantel practically screams for a TV. However, it’s really too high for optimal viewing for any length of time—say a couple of hours to watch an entire movie. Don’t fret. There are ways to minimize some of these detractions.
Wall mounts can be outfitted with articulating arms that electronically extend and tip the TV screen toward seated viewers. Often these systems
can be programmed so that when you turn on the television, the arm automatically adjusts the TV screen to the optimum viewing angle. For daily viewing of regular programming, the height won’t be much of an issue.
To get the most out of movie nights at home, however, splurge on a digital projector and screen that can lower from the ceiling to the fireplace mantel, covering the flat-panel TV. The screen can be concealed behind crown molding or recessed into the ceiling when not in use. The projector (ceiling-mounted opposite the screen) transmits TV signals or recorded programming onto the screen. No more craning your neck to watch movies at home.