Gadget Freak: I've Been to the Mountin' Top--Tips for Hanging Your HDTV

Illustration: Barry Blitt
Shopping for a big flat-panel HDTV is easy. Paying for it is a little more complicated. But the true challenge is figuring out where to put it once you get it home.

You can take the coward's way out and stand the TV set on a solid piece of furniture in your family room. Or you can take the manly route and mount that sucker to the wall. For that I'm-so-cool aesthetic, nothing beats a wall mount.

Feeling manly? Good. Here is what you need to do.

Get the right tools: You'll need a tape measure, a drywall saw, a power drill, and a stud finder--an electronic gadget that helps locate the wood framing in your walls. You have to screw the mount into the studs; otherwise, your flat screen might end up flat on the floor. Get a buddy to help you hoist the set, as a 42-inch plasma TV can weigh 70 pounds or more. I'd also recommend a bottle of Motrin, a flask of bourbon (for courage), and a thorough review of your homeowner's insurance.

Select your mount: This is not the place to get cheap. If you have a 42-inch plasma set, plan on dropping at least $200 on a fixed mounting kit or about $250 for one that tilts, says David Slavitt, owner of Audio Video Solutions in Montville, New Jersey. Slavitt prefers tilt models like the OmniMount U3 Tilt Plasma Mount ($250 list) because they can help reduce glare. For more flexibility, try a cantilever or articulating mount that permits you to adjust the screen up, down, or side to side, such as Sanus Systems' VisionMount VMAA ($550 list).

Pick the right spot: Where you hang the screen will be dictated largely by the shape of the room, the location of the studs, and your spouse. But try to minimize the amount of ambient light; if you're hanging the unit across from a window, get a heavy curtain. Planning to mount the thing above a wood-burning fireplace? Make sure that the wall above the mantel doesn't get hotter than 90 degrees or collect soot, and use a tilt mount to reduce neck strain.

Hang 'em high (but not too high): In general, your eyes should be level with the top of the screen when you're seated, says Dan Liberman, owner of Infinite Sight and Sound in Fairfax, Virginia. But you may want to hang the TV slightly higher if the screen is especially large, if you will sit more than 10 feet away, or if it's a place where people will watch while standing up, like a bar or billiards room.

Consider the hole picture: Nothing looks sillier than a beautifully mounted screen with cables dangling beneath. The solution is to cut a hole in the wall behind the screen and snake the wires through it, and then put another hole near where your A/V gear is. But since most building codes forbid running a power cable inside a wall, you should get an electrician to install an AC outlet behind the television set.

Plug early and often: You don't want to unmount the set just to plug in a new cable. So obtain all your cables--even ones you may not immediately use, such as a DVI cable--and connect them at installation time, suggests Netzer Martinez, senior installer for 6th Ave Electronics in New York. That will make adding new devices later considerably easier.

Don't rush things: Give yourself plenty of time. A professional installation typically takes around 2 hours--3 if it involves snaking cables inside walls, says Liberman. Amateurs should set aside twice that amount (especially if you have the bourbon).

If the whole idea makes you nervous, hire a professional installer. It will likely run you $250 to $400, plus the cost of the mount. Still, that's better than having your screen--and your dreams--lying shattered on the ground.

Contributing Editor Dan Tynan is the author of Computer Privacy Annoyances (O'Reilly Media, 2005).

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