Launch Slideshow

Disappearing Act

The flat-panel TV—plasma or LCD—has become both status symbol and style statement. Even so, to many, a TV is still a visual intrusion, no matter how thin it may be. The custom electronics challenge facing today's designers: how to hide the plasma TV?

Disappearing Act

The flat-panel TV—plasma or LCD—has become both status symbol and style statement. Even so, to many, a TV is still a visual intrusion, no matter how thin it may be. The custom electronics challenge facing today's designers: how to hide the plasma TV?

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    Tony Soluri

    With VisionArt, a flat-panel TV can be masked by nearly any size and style of frame. When the TV is turned off, artwork automatically descends to cover the screen.

Leidig says meeting the wishes of his clients often allows him to flex his creative muscles. One customer didn't want to mount his plasma in the typical way—behind standard doors—because he knew the doors would always stay open when not in use, “so I devised a plasma facing backward in the cabinet,” Leidig explains. “The cabinet slides out and then the TV rotates around.” The magic trick itself becomes entertainment for the room.

Leidig warns that the cost of such custom installations can be steep. Now that prices for name-brand 42-inch and 50-inch plasma TVs have plummeted to $1,000 and sub-$2,500, respectively, the cost of designing and building a flat-panel housing solution can far outweigh the price of the product itself. “The overall cost of concealing a TV has come down because plasmas are now so inexpensive,” he says, “but people have to ask themselves whether they're going to spend $5,000 for a painting that will house a $2,000 plasma TV.”

Another consideration is space. If you want to use a VisionArt system flush-mounted in the wall, for example, you may want to make the wall artificially deeper. “A product like VisionArt has a back box with a frame and roller attached to it,” Leidig says, “and then the TV is about 5½ inches deep” on top of that, “so we like to create a false space that's 8 inches deep.”

For ventilation, Ambiance Systems uses kits that exhaust the air to the basement or the attic. “The death of most equipment isn't keeping it on all the time, but rather the on/off cycles of going from really warm to room temperature,” Leidig says. “The expansion and contraction of components is what leads to premature [system failure].”

Hiding signal-source devices is also a concern. Nowadays, a TV typically requires an external box for programming whether the content source is HD cable, satellite, or even Internet TV. “You also have to figure out where the equipment will go,” Leidig says. Clients typically want a clean look, he adds, so where possible, he centralizes all equipment on a rack in the basement.

In one recent project—a New England weekend home—Leidig built a custom cabinet that rises out of the floor hoisting a 50-inch plasma TV. The cabinet was built to look like furniture but is actually a façade with cutouts for speakers beneath the display. When the TV is turned off, the entire mechanism retreats to its hiding place beneath the floor. “It simply goes away,” he explains. “There's something inherently cool about that.”

Rebecca Day specializes in writing about home electronics. She can be reached at customhomerd@aol.com. A version of this article originally appeared in residential architect's sister publication CUSTOM HOME.