TV Lifts: an AV Integrator's Guide to Making Big Screen Televisions Disappear

AV integrators hide away flat panel TVs when not in use - an examination of the industry's options in television lifts

As big screen, flat panel televisions continue to drop in price, rise in resolution, and offer new capabilities such as 3 -D, they're spreading to virtually every room of the house -not just for TV and video, but also for video gaming, computer screens, Internet surfing, and more.

But there's a problem: whether a big screen TV is plasma, HD, LCD, or LED flat panel, when not in use the screen remains a big, ugly, black rectangle that can disturb a room's well -appointed decor. With more TVs than ever in homes today, and with screens pushing 60" or more, AV integrators are being asked by clients to remove the visual clutter of unused big screen TVs from high -end homes and venues.

Fortunately, like good magicians, AV integrators can make even the largest household TVs "disappear" until needed, then have them dramatically reappear and swivel into ideal viewing position for clients at the push of a button. The "magic" here -hidden mechanical lifts for TVs -is generations old but continues to adapt to meet the needs of the marketplace.

TV lifts were originally built to accomodate the 200+ pound, deep -box television sets of previous decades, so they're very capable of hiding today's latest generation of lighter, slimmer big screen TVs.

Here's what AV integrators need to know to effectively hide and control big screen TVs with the industry's latest options.

Choices for Hiding TVs

Behind a painting or mirror
A panel lift typically raises a painting or mirror out of the way to expose the hidden big screen TV behind it for viewing, and lowers the painting or mirror back again when the TV is off. Hiding the big screen TV behind the painting usually requires a structural space at least 6" deep behind the painting. TV lifts can also move paintings or mirrors horizontally to hide or reveal the TVs hidden behind them, depending on available wall space.

For the best aesthetics, some TV lifts mount flush to the wall within a recessed wall area. A 6" wall recess depth is optimal for use with plasma or LCD TVs, and should be able to support up to 100 lbs. Some TV lifts completely conceal a plasma or LCD TV within a slim, wall -mounted, wooden frame, which eliminates the need for a permanent hole in the wall.

Ceiling flip down or drop down
When wall space is limited, ceiling flip down or drop down TV lifts can be an answer, as they allow for more flexibility in room configurations. Ceiling flip down lifts support the TV along one horizontal edge with hinge -like arms, and allow the other edge to pivot down from the ceiling to a vertical viewing position. When ceiling space is limited, a ceiling flip down lift designed for plasma or LCD TVs can require as little as 11.5" to lower to viewing position.

Ceiling drop down lifts lower the TV straight down from the ceiling in a supportive enclosure with the viewing side open, and raise the TV back up into the ceiling when the TV is off. Large ceiling drop down lifts are excellent for heavier TVs or where ceiling space is not constricted.

An in -ceiling projection TV lift can eliminate the visual intrusion of mounting a projector from the ceiling. Instead, at the push of a button, the projection TV lift lowers straight down from the ceiling when in use, and raises back up into the ceiling when off.

Remote controlled in -ceiling speaker lifts can lower speakers from the ceiling to provide great audio when needed, and raise them back into the ceiling when not needed. These typically lower speakers to a 45 -degree angle and can hold a maximum load of about 50 lbs. Instead of speakers, a client could use wireless headphones to privately listen to the TV without bugging their partner, who may be lounging next to them in bed or on a sofa.

In -cabinet or dresser
When clients appreciate a custom cabinet, dresser, or piece of furniture as a work of craftsmanship, they're often reluctant to detract from its beauty by placing a big screen TV precariously on top of it. That's when an AV integrator may enlist the help of a custom cabinetmaker.

To protect and hide the TV until it's ready for use, the cabinetmaker can design and build custom cabinetry around a motorized lift. Typically, the cabinet will need about 4" of space beyond the TV's dimensions for the TV lift, and enough interior space to accommodate it.

Some TV lifts can accommodate big screens over 120" and if needed, the lift can actually raise the cabinet and TV from under the floor. A good cabinetmaker can also take apart, design, and re -build antique cabinetry around a motorized TV lift when asked to do so.

Under the bed
Under -the -bed TV lifts minimize visual clutter by preserving wall space and panoramic window views. This new type of TV lift, such as the Dream Machine by Valencia, Calif. -based Auton Motorized Systems, fits under the bed frame and operates with a wireless remote. At the click of a button it allows the user to quietly slide the TV from under the bed and raise it to their ideal viewing position in seconds. From that position, the TV can swivel 360 degrees (180 degrees in each direction) allowing it to be viewed from anywhere in the room. Another click returns it to its original hidden position under the bed.

Unlike wall -mounted TVs or other TV lifts, the under -the -bed TV lift requires no installation. At 9" high, it rolls under any standard king, queen, full or twin -sized bed frame and plugs into a standard outlet. There are no required tools or attachments, and no required assembly, construction, or modification, as there's no need to fasten the lift to the floor or bed. Its large polyurethane wheels and comparatively light weight allow easy transport over most surfaces to its final location and position. One person can easily transport it, slip it under the bed, and get it working without help in minutes.

Controlling the TV
After hiding and revealing the TV, the issue is how to control it. Clients will not want to manually position the TV for viewing each time it goes up. For client convenience, the TV should be positionable to preferred height and viewing angle by remote at a minimum. Ideally, the TV should rise to the client's preferred viewing position with a single button click.

The best TV lifts allow up to 180 degrees of rotation in either direction by remote for 360 degrees of viewing angle control. This eases TV viewing from different places within a room, and allows two people to watch different programs simultaneously if they have two TVs with separate TV lifts.

To increase adaptability and the options an installer can offer clients, a TV lift should also have a multi -functional control box that receives RF, infrared and low -voltage remote signals. Some such systems, such as Auton's, can accommodate up to seven remote control programs that include DVD, cable TV, video game console, Internet services, and more. For example, the remote can dim or expand the lighting while also turning on the TV as the screen rises from its hiding place. The multi -tasking can also include music selection and other mood enhancers for total control of the environment.

Next, how the TV lift moves is important. Is it fast, smooth, and quiet? Or slow, jerky, and noisy? The best TV lifts on this score are rack and pinion lifts, which have been refined for generations by industry pioneers such as Virgil Walker, President of Auton, who invented his first lift in 1955.

Another point where aesthetics and function meet is how precisely the "hidden" TV lift blends with the wall, ceiling, counter, desk, or table space it's part of when not in use. Is there a noticeable gap that "announces" that something is not right, or that something is poorly "hidden"?

"How happy would the client be with 1/16th -inch gaps visible in the ceiling, countertop, or work surface?" asks Walker. "For best results, any hidden TV lift surface should be completely flush with its surrounding surface." To achieve that he suggests selecting a TV lift that is adjustable to within 1/32 of an inch. In order to withstand years of use without callbacks or warping, he advises choosing a lift that's stoutly made, such as from 10/12 field metal, with an unconditional warranty of several years.

With a little ingenuity and the help of modern TV lift systems, AV integrators will work magic for clients, making even the largest household TVs "disappear" until needed, then have them dramatically reappear and swivel into ideal viewing position at the push of a button.

For more information, contact Auton Motorized Systems, 27555 Avenue Scott, Valencia, CA 91355; Phone (661) 257 -9282; Fax (661) -295 -5638; E -mail:; or visit the website:
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By Del Williams
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.

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