Despite all the talk about streaming video on smartphones, tablets and laptops, the big-screen flat-panel television is the undisputed king when it comes to watching sports, TV shows and movies at home. And there's no reason to think that will change any time soon. In less than a decade, flat-panel TVs have become a fixture in American homes, replacing bulky tube and rear-projection sets and finding their way into family rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and other spaces.
Light, Lean and Flexible
Today's LCD, LED and plasma TVs are ever lighter and thinner, with ultra-slim bezels. They accommodate a variety of wall-mounting schemes, ranging from a simple fixed or tilting bracket to a remote-controlled motorized mount that extends, tilts and swivels (see "Hide Your Tech Away" for some exotic possibilities).
With screen sizes ranging from 19 to 60 inches and larger for LCD and LED-backlit LCD TVs (commonly referred to as LED TVs), and 40 inches and up for plasma, you will find a vast assortment of models to fit any space or purpose.
Of course, for a clean and functional home theater design, you will want to conceal the power and A/V cables and choose the mounting scheme that works best for your situation, which is where a crack home theater installer comes in; a pro will lay out all the options, including a few you didn't even know existed.
Mouth-Watering High-Def TV
Regardless of the underlying technology used, you can expect a rich, detailed high-definition picture, especially from models offering 1080p or "full HD" resolution. Many home theater enthusiasts prefer plasma over LCD for its deep blacks and excellent contrast, which can reveal more detail in dark scenes, but some of the newer LED models deliver "black-level" performance that can match the best plasmas, although usually at higher prices.
The up-and-coming TV technology to keep an eye on is OLED - pronounced "oh-led," short for organic light-emitting diode - which promises vivid images from a super-thin screen. LG and Samsung have demonstrated 55-inch models with screens that are only 0.15 and 0.3 inches thick, respectively. Due out in 2012, these TVs will cost two to three times more than top-of-the-line 55-inch LED TVs.
Goodbye Boob Tube, Hello Smart TV
Today's flat-panel TVs are a far cry from the boob tube of yesterday, offering an ever-expanding roster of features, including 3D viewing, a host of manual and automated picture-quality controls and Internet/Wi-Fi connectivity.
The move toward so-called smart TVs is an exciting trend. In addition to apps that provide one-touch access to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Skype and many popular services, the latest generation of smart TVs includes models that can be controlled by voice and gesture (think Nintendo Wii) commands. Definitely not your father's TV.
Easy on the Electricity and Environment
Energy efficiency is the icing on the cake when it comes to today's top-performing multi-featured flat-panel TVs. In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DoE) have set increasingly stringent power-consumption standards for TVs under the Energy Star program. The result: Today's models consume significantly less power than their predecessors, saving you money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
To learn more about integrating flat-panel TVs into your home and maybe even building a custom home theater or media room around a big-screen model, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member electronic systems contractors in your area.