Make Your Flat-Screen TV Disappear When the Show's Over
Here's how to show them off only when they are showing you stuff.
The screen and components of this plasma TV are recessed into a wall over a fireplace mantel.
Measuring a svelte 3 to 5 inches thick, plasma screens have literally altered the shape of home entertainment. They're revolutionizing the look of the TV room, too, as people discover inventive ways to integrate the sleek monitors into their homes.
Take the case of Marc and Mindy Utay. During the renovation of their Manhattan apartment, the couple found themselves in a familiar bind: how to get one room to perform two functions.
"On the one hand, we wanted to create a calm, quiet study in which to relax and read," Marc says. "But we still needed a place where the family could hang out in the evenings and watch a movie."
Since a standard, boxy television would upset the formal feel of the room, Manhattan-based audiovisual consultant Bill Mayer suggested recessing a 50-inch plasma screen, just 4 inches thick, into the wall above the fireplace mantel. Architect Alfred Wen liked the solution.
"Both the fireplace and the TV demand to be the focal point of the room," he explains, "so furniture would be arranged around them in the same way."
The result is a TV room disguised as an English-style library, where Surround sound emanates from speakers set in the cherry-paneled walls. The system's peripherals — DVD player, VCR, cable box — are housed in an adjacent cabinet built into the wall, while the wires connecting the components are hidden away in a flexible 2-inch pipe snaked behind the paneling. When the room is in full library mode, the television disappears behind a mechanized panel that slides along steel tracks and is operated by remote control. Custom designed by Eric Andkjar, the panel moves horizontally back 2 inches before lifting up, so the Utays have the option of hanging a painting on it. The monitor is ventilated through a series of holes drilled into the wooden box that holds it, as well as through the door mechanism.
There's no question that plasma technology is a boon to multipurpose rooms. "When space is at a premium, the design options are as wide as your imagination," says Mayer, who has helped tuck the screens into handsome cabinets at the foot of beds and recessed them in wall cavities covered by movable paintings. But hiding them over the fireplace remains a popular approach, in part because it places the monitor at a good viewing height. To hear Marc Utay talk, the beauty is as much about what you can't see. "With the panel down, it's like sitting in my own private study instead of in the middle of the TV room."
When not in use, the giant screen is concealed by a sliding panel.
The Skinny on Flat-Screen TVs
A plasma screen's slim profile is its strongest selling point, but it's not the only one. For starters, the technology (simply put: charged particles of gaslike plasma strike light-emitting colored phosphors on the back of the screen to produce an image) results in an exceptionally bright picture. When paired with a high-definition signal, from a satellite, cable, DVD, or over-the-air broadcast (roof antenna), the resolution is four times sharper than regular analog TV. Plus, its flat screen stops images from bending at the edge of the picture, making for 160 degrees of comfortable viewing. And its rectangular shape, proportional to a movie screen, means films can be viewed in their intended "widescreen" format. Finally, a plasma screen can double as a computer monitor, letting you check your e-mail and the score of the game at the same time.
While prices remain high (the average 42-inch plasma screen runs about $8,000, though some can be had for half that), experts predict that increasing demand will drive costs down by a third every year, until they're as affordable as high-end tube TVs. Manufacturers expect to sell 41.2 million monitors to households worldwide in 2005 alone. A less expensive option is LCD (liquid crystal display), which is as thin as plasma but retails for under $1,500. However, the smaller price tag reflects a smaller screen size and reduced viewing angle: LCDs are typically 15 or 20 inches, compared to the standard 42 or 50 inches of plasma, and many models must be watched straight on, like the screen on a laptop. On the plus side, LCDs almost always come with a tuner and speakers. Though a few plasma manufacturers offer lines with the same plug-and-play capability (including an outboard or built-in tuner), most models still function as a monitor, not a TV. In other words, they require
a separate tuner (a cable or satellite box will suffice) as well
as a sound system.
Neither plasma nor LCD will become obsolete anytime soon, since they can be adapted to HDTV, digital TV, or any new broadcast technology on the horizon.
Shutters are another hideaway solution for a plasma over a mantel.
Where to Find It
New York, NY
Plasma-screen lift fabricator:
New York, NY
New York, NY
Architectural Paneling Inc.
New York, NY
A painting slides down over the screen.
Sharp Electronics Inc.
Long Beach, CA
Our Thanks to:
HDTV Insider Newsletter
Stephan A. Booth
New York, NY