[1. DON'T WALL-MOUNT A TV TOO HIGH.]
Always check the screen sizes that the wall-mount bracket says it can hold, and stay within the appropriate range. You should also check the maximum weight a bracket can hold and make sure that it can support your TV. And think about where you’ll really be when you’re watching television to make sure you place the wall mount appropriately. “An important thing to keep in mind is where the sightlines will be,” says George Veile, the owner of Room Service Home Theater Specialists in Portland. “The last thing you want to do is spend all afternoon installing a system on your bedroom wall and then crawl into bed, turn on the TV and discover that your toes stick up three inches into the screen.
[2. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT THE OPTIMAL DISTANCE YOU SHOULD BE FROM YOUR TV WHILE WATCHING IT.]
Experts say that for analog sets with a regular 4:3 ratio (4 inches of width for every 3 inches of height), you should sit at a distance 3 to 6 times the diagonal width of the screen. For high-definition, wide-screen TVs (16 inches of width for every 9 inches of height), sit at a distance 1.5 to 3 times the diagonal width of the screen. If you sit too close to the TV, you give up sharp picture detail. If you sit too far, you may “see” more detail than the eyes can perceive. Generally, 10 feet is considered good measure for distance on a widescreen 50-inch Plasma TV with 720p resolution. However, six feet is considered the optimal distance when flat panels have 1080i/p resolution.
“A good ratio to keep in mind is to sit at a distance of about 11/2 times the diagonal of the screen, so the room needs to be able to accommodate that,” says Veile. “But it also depends what you’re using the television for. If you mainly watch movies, people don’t usually complain about being too close. But if you mainly use your TV to watch the news, then people complain about the size of the screen.”
[3. FOLLOW YOUR HEART WHEN DECIDING WHETHER TO HIDE THE BOOB TUBE OR MAKE IT A ROOM'S FOCAL POINT.]
Sure, you may plan to spend a lot of time staring at the screen and channel-surfing, but since an entertainment center can take up a lot of space, plan for how you want it to fit in with your décor. “Think about how you want your components to look after they’re installed,” says fine-furniture maker Eric Franklin of Eric Franklin Design in Portland. “Do you want to show off the equipment you’ve spend thousands of dollars on as a design statement or do you want to make it go away when you’re not using it? You need to decide if you want it to be visible or blend in. Seeing row upon row of CDs isn’t everybody’s idea of decoration, but whether or not you do that depends on how you want to organize the room.”
In fact, you can make your TV part of the décor rather than just hide it or show it off. “With all the different styles of flat screens, you have a lot more flexibility with where you place them,” says designer Michelle Kantor of Michelle Kantor Associates Architectural Planning and Design in Portland. “You no longer buy a TV and automatically stick it in a cabinet. A lot of people put TVs over their fireplaces as if it were a painting and program the screen to show a shifting display of art when they’re not watching it.”
[4. WATCH WHERE YOU PLACE YOUR TV IN A ROOM.]
Having a window back-light the set is an invitation for eyestrain and headaches. Ditto on letting sunshine hit the screen and create a nice glare-o-meter. Experts say you need to face the TV away from any windows and use window treatments to prevent picture washout. To further reduce eyestrain and glare, place a light with a 10- or 15-watt incandescent (or 5-watt florescent) bulb behind the TV. Choose a white light rather than pink to enhance the accuracy of onscreen colors. “You want to be able to look at the TV screen without any interference,” says Kantor. “You may have a particular location in mind for your television, but you have to mitigate the effects of light. I wouldn’t put a television by a window because you won’t be able to see it when the light hits it.”
[5. REALIZE THAT A SOUND SYSTEM HAS ELECTRICAL NEEDS, TOO.]
When buying the components of your home entertainment system, take note of which pieces need to be plugged in to make sure you’ll have enough outlets or enough space on your power strip. Depending on the type of sound system you choose, it may need its own dedicated plugs. “You can get a big TV with a surround-sound system and some of those have a sub-woofer that needs to be plugged into power,” says Larry Pettijohn, the owner of Wilsonville Electric in Wilsonville, Ore. “I’ve also seen some that have regular right and left speakers that also have to be plugged into power, so they have this requirement in addition to the wire coming from the main component.”
[6. AVOID OVERLOADING YOUR HOME'S ELECTRICAL CIRCUITS.]
If you have home entertainment equipment, computer equipment and an appliance or two plugged into the same power strip, you could be setting yourself up for power failure, not to mention equipment failure. “It can be dangerous to overload the circuits,” says Pettijohn. “You don’t want to overload anything because then you’re relying on the circuit-breaker or fuse to do its job. And if it’s faulty, it’s not going to. You could overload the wiring and heat it up. Once the wiring in that circuit is overheated, it acts as a heating coil. I’ve seen wiring that’s stapled to wood joists leave burn marks on the surrounding wood when those wires have overheated.”
[7. BEFORE BUYING A FANCY HOME ENTERTAINMENT CENTER THAT DOES EVERYTHING EXCEPT MAKE YOUR BREAKFAST, ASSESS WHAT YOU'LL MOSTLY BE USING YOUR EQUIPMENT FOR.]
If you plan to mostly watch movies, make sure your home entertainment center makes the television and your DVD collection easily accessible. “Decide what will be the most important function of your system,” says Franklin. “If it’s listening to music, prioritize that. The more problems you try to solve with a cabinet, the more expensive it becomes, so it’s important for you to have a realistic expectation of what you want a home entertainment system to do. I always advise that you keep it simple. The simpler a design is, the easier it is on the eye and the easier it is to live with—and the fewer problems you’ll have with it.”
[ 8. HIRE AN ELECTRICIAN TO GIVE YOUR HOUSE AN ELECTRICAL CHECK-UP.]
If you live in old house, it wasn’t built to accommodate all the electronics you use today. While a lot of today’s electronics don’t always pull a lot of power, it’s likely that the outlet your full power strip is plugged into isn’t going to a circuit dedicated just for that room. The circuit is probably shared with other areas of your home. To tell how much power can go to each circuit, hire an electrician to test them for you.
“The only way to tell is to put an amp probe on it, and that’s a job for an electrician,” says Pettijohn. “You have to pull the panel cover off and find the correct circuit. If it turns out you’ve got a 15-amp rated circuit, and you’re pulling 20 amps out, that wire is overloaded. You might be plugging all your equipment into one receptacle in one room, but it might also link to two other rooms, and you won’t know until you isolate which circuits do what in your house.”
If you find out you need to rethink how you plug in your home entertainment equipment, there are ways to adapt your house or redistribute your system’s components. “You can add more outlets, but, depending on the load, you’d have to add them on to separate circuits,” says Pettijohn. “Or, generally the back of every appliance will tell you how much amperage or wattage it uses. That way you can total it up and see if it’s too much.”
[9. MAKE SURE THAT TV'S DVD PLAYERS AND OTHER GIZMOS ARE HOUSED IN FURNITURE THAT VENTS THE HEAT THEY GENERATE.]
There needs to be room around your equipment for air to circulate, so don’t cram a 40-inch television into a space that’s designed for a 20-inch screen. If you’re converting a vintage piece of furniture into a TV cabinet, remove its back. “If you take off the back, that can give you airflow, and you’ll still be able to close the doors over it in the front,” says Pettijohn. “You need to be concerned about heat because, over time, it can damage or destroy the components. Ventilation is the key to making sure your system lasts a long time.”
[10. PLAN FOR YOUR LONG-TERM MEDIA NEEDS.]
When you begin to buy home entertainment equipment, think about what kind of features you might want over the long run. Are you interested in playing games or planning to eventually get rid of your CDs and use only an iPod for music? If you think about what you’ll want for the long haul, you’ll be able to build an entertainment system that always meets your needs rather that spending money on something you get little use out of. “The biggest problem is not having a plan for building your system or not thinking about how you can integrate all the different parts of your system,” says Veile. “It’s like buying a car a piece at a time. You wouldn’t go out and buy a crankshaft and pray it’ll work with all the other components you bought, would you?”
[11. IF YOU CAN, DEDICATE A WHOLE ROOM TO YOUR HOME ENTERTAINMENT NEEDS.]
Televisions and all their associated equipment can take up a lot of space, so if you can create a separate area for it, all the better. “Because all the technology can dominate a room, dedicating a room is the single most important thing you can do to make your system the most functional,” says Franklin. “If you have a multi-purpose room and you’re going to plug an entertainment system into it, it’s important to realize that you’ll lose at least a whole wall and about three feet in depth.”
If you’re able to have a room just for entertainment, you can design it for that purpose. “If you mostly watch movies, you don’t need any windows in the room, says Kantor. “You can use acoustic materials for better sound quality and install an electric panel to meet the needs of your equipment. It’s also nice to have a little kitchen nearby, with an under-the-counter refrigerator and a microwave. Lately I’ve been seeing large, cushy theater-style seats with just enough depth to give a stair step so everyone can see.”
[12. PLAN FOR MEDIA STORAGE.]
How to organize your media is an important aspect of any home entertainment system, and the media can often take up more space that the television! If you have CDs, DVDs, a few leftover cassettes and videos as well as your high school collection of vinyl and portable turntable, you need to store all these items in a way that makes them easy to find.
“You want to be able to open drawers and slide doors in an organized fashion to access something specific within seconds,” says Franklin. “The point at which you really want your entertainment system to function is when you’re holding a glass of wine in one hand and talking to your guests while trying to find that favorite CD you want to play. Most systems will work just fine when you’re alone, but how a system functions when you’re slightly distracted or multi-tasking is the key to whether it’s well-designed or not.”
[13. MANAGE YOUR CORD CLUTTER.]
Don’t think you can buy a sleek polished-nickel TV stand designed by Humberto Italiano in 1954 from a place like Design Within Reach, set your sleek flat-screen plasma TV on top of it and render invisible the super-sized, spaghettilike mound of cords that clutter the ebonized floor beneath the TV stand. Once you’ve hooked up a DVD player, TIVO, VCR, speakers and game station, you’re likely to be wading in wires. So, if you don’t want that unsightly mess, plan ways to hide them into the design of your home entertainment system. “There are a lot of options for disguising equipment,” says Kantor. “They weren’t available when televisions were so much larger and took up more room. You can hide things behind cabinetry, a sliding door, a sliding wall or even a screen. The smaller depths and heights of a lot of todays’ equipment make it easier to hide.
[14. ASSESS YOUR BUDGET AND EQUIPMENT NEEDS BEFORE YOU COMISSION CUSTOM CABINETRY TO HOLD YOUR ELECTRONICS GEAR.]
Since home electronics represent a significant financial outlay, you should put as much thought into how you’ll house the products as you did into choosing components. “One of the first things you need to do is figure out a budget,” says Franklin. “For a high-tech stereo or TV installation, you could spend more on cabinetry than on components. Ask yourself what the life of the cabinet will be. Will it only be used for the current set of components or do you want to design a cabinet that will allow you to upgrade and change as pieces of equipment come and go? The question of longevity and flexibility becomes more important if it will be built-in rather than free-standing, because you’ll want it to be as useful for as long a period of time as possible.”
[15. KNOW THAT CHANGING TECHNOLOGY MAY REQUIRE EQUIPMENT ADAPTIONS.]
Deciding which TV to buy is a combination of price, available technology and personal preferences, but government regulation also affects television technology, so it’s good to be aware of what’s on the horizon. By February 2009, all broadcasts signals will switch to a digital format, so your television will need to have that capability. If you have an analog-only system, it won’t pick up the signal. “Changes like that are just another thing to keep in mind, and the switch to digital is being done to free up parts of the broadcast system,” says Veile. “If you have a TV that isn’t designed to receive a digital signal, you’ll have to buy a converter box for your television, which means there will be one more thing you’ll have to hook up.”