The new stars of the big screen

Televisions have made the transition to designer objects in their own right. But do we really have to have them in every room? Nick Foulkes reports
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The Independent Online

And we are no longer prepared to sit in one room to watch the television. We want to move around the house and follow our programmes, whether we are nipping into the kitchen to brew a cup of herbal tea, or paying a visit to the lavatory. According to the interior designer Nicky Haslam, Russian clients now require a flat-screen television in every room - the largest number he has ever installed on one job is 25. Thin, lightweight, discreet and stylish, flat screens allow us to watch everywhere.

"If the trend towards putting flat screens above mantels continues," says the fireplace supplier Paul Chesney, "it will start to dictate the proportions of fireplaces. We recently had a project where one of our clients came over from America to view an antique mantel for his 5th Avenue apartment in New York. He fell in love with this rather special 18th-century English fireplace, for which he paid a six-figure sum and returned happily to New York. But there was a moment of panic when he wondered if he could be certain that there would be room for a flat-screen TV above it. It might seem strange to put a TV screen above a mantel but when the proportions are right, it can look sufficiently discreet so as not to detract from the mantelpiece. Once the architecture of the room would have dictated scales - it is now led by technological options and requirements."

Sticking a screen above a fireplace may not be as smart a move as you might think. Unless you are used to watching a television that perches on the upper half of your wall, you might find yourself getting a crick in the neck after 10 minutes. Wayne Bridgett, the manager of the sound and vision department at Harrods, has a useful rule of thumb when it comes to selecting a flat screen. "Look at the size of your TV room. The bigger the screen, the farther away you need to sit for the picture to look good. One simple formula suggests that you multiply the diagonal size of an HDTV screen by 2.5 to four to get viewing distance. That means you'd watch a 30in TV from a distance of 70in to 120in. Conventional televisions, however, should be watched at twice that distance."

But it is not just picture quality that concerns manufacturers. "A lot of companies are putting so much more effort into how things look," says Beechinor Collins. "The wife-acceptance factor is a term that is commonly used in the industry. The guy is saying 'it needs to have this, this, this and this', while she is, like, 'it needs to be blue'. It is stereotypical stuff but it happens and the consumer electronics industry works around that."

Where once televisions were considered ugly or slightly shameful objects - a large television was commensurate with a barren social life and an uncultivated mind - clever manufacturers have been able to turn them into the consumer grail of a "design object". Philips claims that its televisions actually improve a room even when switched off. Those models equipped with Philips's Ambilight feature, a backlighting system, can be used to supply additional lighting even if the television is off. Similarly cunning is Philips's Miravision, a television that becomes reflective when it is switched off. Sony, meanwhile, has become something of leader in the field of meshing television and computing, with media systems that function as PCs, televisions and recording systems - an approach that is particularly attractive to the home-office user or the space-poor gadget-rich single man. And for those who wanted to watch TV alfresco, Sharp have created a wireless TV. Size matters too: industry-watchers say that LG and Samsung seem to be locked in a battle to make the biggest screen.

It's fair to say that, with high-definition television now less than a year away, the importance of flat-screen television in our lives will increase.