Once upon a time, about half a century or so ago, the choice in televisions was limited. Only black-and-white sets were available, and the largest screens were only 24 inches. The set was encased in its own cabinetry and nestled in among the other pieces of furniture in the living room.
How things have changed. Today a homeowner who wants to purchase a new television confronts mind-boggling choices.
There are different types of television sets, an enormous range in screen size, nuances in picture quality, and resolution to satisfy the most persnickety movie buff and the sports nut who wants to watch football games and instant replay with minimal blurring. And there’s a set and a price to fit every homeowner’s budget, no matter how large or how small.
The old-style, picture-tube set, now called a cathode ray tube, or CRT, is more compact that it was 50 years ago, but relative to the newer sets, it’s heavy and bulky with a 24-inch depth, and it still occupies floor space, either on a table or in a sizeable armoire.
A liquid crystal diode set, usually called an LCD, and a plasma set are, by comparison, extremely compact. With circuitry tucked in behind the screen and a depth of about 6 inches, they can be hung on the wall like a piece of art (some would say that these new sets are pieces of art). Between the two types of sets, screen sizes can range from 7 inches to 60 inches.
A rear-projection set is bulky and big, but it’s the most affordable option if you have your heart set on a super-sized 61-inch screen.
If you’re building a new house, a critical difference between the old and new types of televisions is the wiring. It can be concealed behind the walls if you plan ahead and tell your builder where to locate your cable outlets.
Where might you want a television in your new house? A recent interview with Dave Wilson, a home technology integrator based in Orlando, Fla., suggests that there’s a set for every household activity. The only thing keeping you from having a television in every room is a lack of imagination or perhaps a streak of practicality — while you could have one everywhere, some locations are more sensible than others.
For example, the laundry room is one place that you will be spending a fair amount of time, especially if you have young children or a large household and do laundry every day. A television can be a welcome diversion that makes the time go faster as you sort loads, fold clean clothes, and, most of all, while you iron (surely the most odious chore of them all). As most laundry rooms are compact spaces, Wilson recommends a wall-mounted, 15-inch LCD.
Another spot for a television and a room where you probably don’t have one now is the master bathroom. Wilson’s clients often want one there so they can catch the news and weather as they start their day. In the past he rarely did it because of the challenges and cost involved in trying to install one of the old-style clunkers — you had to steal space from an adjoining room to create a niche big enough to house it.
With the new, compact, wall-mounted sets, however, you can put one almost anywhere in a bathroom, including behind a mirror, Wilson said. The question for today’s homeowners is how many sets in your master bathroom and where?
In some bathrooms, one set will suffice because you can see it from both vanities and the soaking tub. But Wilson said it’s not uncommon to install three because the vanities are quite separate and the tub is off in its own alcove. To avoid cacophony when both spouses get ready for work at the same time, they have to agree on the same station, he added. The set by the tub would be watched during a relaxing soak on the weekend or at the end of a work day. No one would watch an entire movie, but it’s a nice place to watch the evening news or perhaps one show, Wilson said. He uses a 15-inch LCD in the vanity area. For the tub area most homeowners want a bigger screen, and he’s installed LCDs as large as 46 inches.
A television for your home office is another increasingly popular option, Wilson said. Though some homeowners engage in solitary pursuits in their home offices and regard a television as an intrusion, others need to follow the news and stock quotes throughout the day. The challenge is placing the screen so that you can frequently glance at it without being distracted as you work at your computer. Wilson has tucked an LCD into a bookcase by the desk or placed one on the wall so that you can see it by swiveling your chair or looking up.
A television for the kitchen is also becoming increasingly common. Although it’s the center of family life in most households, it’s also a room where the cook is likely to spend a lot of time alone, especially if he or she gets home from work first and starts the meal prep before the rest of the household arrives. In those instances, a television can be good company. Because you’ll be listening more than you’re watching — chopping vegetables, stirring sauces, and all those other tasks require your full attention –a small screen can work well, Wilson said. He likes to tuck a 15-inch LCD that flips down for viewing under a wall cabinet by your food prep area or, where possible, position a wall mounted LCD so that family members sitting at the kitchen counter can also see it.
The one place where most people want a set with a big screen is the family room, and most want the biggest size they can afford. But, Wilson advised, to maximize your viewing enjoyment, you need to consider other factors as well, including the viewing angle, the proportions of the screen, the degree of contrast, glare, and the sharpness of the image, which can vary from one type of set to another.
The salespeople in locally owned upscale appliance stores or national chains such as Best Buy are generally quite knowledgeable on the technical end of things. But they can’t predict how well a particular set will work for you without seeing the space where you want to view it. For example, a big screen in the store will often look even bigger in your family room and overwhelm the space, Wilson said. To see if the size you want is a good fit, he suggested making a mock-up of the actual screen size and tacking it up on your wall. You’ll quickly decide if it looks right or ridiculous.
Another consideration for a family-room space is viewing distance. The bigger the screen, the farther back you must sit to watch it comfortably. The rule of thumb, Wilson said, is that the viewing distance is 1.5 to 2 times the width of your screen. For example, a 56-inch screen size has a width of 46 inches to 48 inches and a viewing distance of about 6 feet to 8 feet. For most family rooms, a 50- to 60-inch screen works best, he said.
Another issue with the big screens in family rooms is where to put them. Bowing to the tradition of “home and hearth,” most homeowners want to arrange their furniture around the fireplace. But they also want to arrange the furniture for maximum comfort while watching television. You can have both if you hang the set above the fireplace, Wilson said. Some homeowners think this looks terrible when the set is turned off. In these instances, he covers it with a retractable piece of art. For this arrangement to look right, he added, the size of the fireplace and the television screen should be similar. If your fireplace measures 42 inches on the diagonal, you would want a 42-inch LCD or plasma set. But he hastened to add, other factors can also come into play. If you have a long mantelpiece, a 50-inch screen might look OK.
Questions or queries? Katherine Salant can be contacted at www.katherinesalant.com.