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Where to hang a flat-panel TV

So you've picked out the perfect flat-screen LED TV or plasma TV. You've even picked out the perfect TV wall mount to hang it on a wall. But have you picked out the perfect place to put your new TV? Experts -- ourselves included -- often wax poetically about the outstanding picture quality of top-performing TVs. However, the truth of the matter is that no matter how perfect the image, factors such as seating distances, TV height and more can conspire to ruin the viewing experience. Here's what you need to know.

Up close and personal

According to the experts at THX, the biggest complaint most TV buyers have about their brand new set is that they should have gone for a bigger screen size. However, the real issue might not be that their TV set is too small; instead it could be that they are sitting too far away. In the bad old days before HDTV, you wanted to be as far away from the TV screen as you could be and still see the picture. That's because the closer you sat, the worse things looked on a standard definition TV -- artifacts, scanning lines, soft image quality, etc. -- all became more obvious. That's not true with today's HDTVs -- you can sit surprisingly close and still see an outstanding image.

So how far away should you sit? Different experts have different takes -- and your viewing room as well as your own personal preferences should play an important role, too. But for those that want to enjoy an immersive movie watching experience in a smaller space, such as a living room, THX provides the following suggestions:

  • 35-inch class TV = 3.5 - 5 feet away;
  • 40-inch class TV = 4 - 6 feet away;
  • 50-inch class TV = 5 - 7.5 feet away;
  • 60-inch class TV = 6 - 9 feet away.

Hang 'em low

Flip through the pages of an interior-design magazine or visit a site dedicated to room-decor ideas and when it comes to hanging a flat-panel TV you are sure to see photo after photo of sets mounted high on a wall, with plenty of those showing a TV set hung over a fireplace mantle. Those sure look great, at least when the TV is off. But actually watching something on a TV hung too high on a wall can be a pain in the neck -- literally.

Expert after expert says the same thing: To avoid neck strain and to enjoy the best possible image quality (remember, some TVs, especially LCD TVs, have limited viewing angles where the best color and black levels are seen), a TV should be mounted so that the center of the screen falls roughly at eye level from your viewing position. The pros at THX agree, allowing that the maximum angle above eye level should be no more than 15 degrees.

If you or your interior decorator have a different idea, you might first want to try sitting with your head tilted back for a two hour stretch (the run time for a typical movie) -- and keep your chiropractor's number on speed dial. If you insist on hanging a TV high up on a wall, it's probably a good idea to move your seating position farther from the screen to compensate, and/or to invest in comfortable recliners.

By the way, if your fireplace is functional rather than just decorative, hanging a TV above one might not be such a "hot" idea under any circumstances. Heat is never a friend to delicate electronics. Nor is ash or soot if your fireplace is of the open, wood burning variety. With the fireplace in use, test temperatures where you plan to mount the set to be sure they don't exceed the TV maker's recommendations.

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