Must-See TV

By Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sherry Davis knew exactly where she would put her new 50-inch flat-screen television: in the living room, above that other indisputable focal point, the fireplace.

Never mind that many decorators (her own included) cringe at the sight of exposed sets in living rooms, especially those prominently displayed. That opinion is so widely held among designers that some don't even like seeing TVs in plain sight in more casual family rooms.

But slim, sleek, flat-panel screens are changing our interior landscapes. This is particularly true for young people, says designer Justine Sancho of Bethesda. "They are very electronic in their thought processes, so we've had to design a main room where the focus is on a TV," she says.

Call it tech-toy pride.

Putting the set front and center works for Davis and the "rabid sports fans" in her life -- two grown children, their spouses and her ex-husband -- who routinely gather at her Bethesda condo for big games, including Sunday's Super Bowl.

"I have a penthouse that is soft, modern and sleek. The fireplace isn't fussy. And the TV is so contemporary, it's almost like another piece of art," says Davis, a real estate broker.

Caroline Hall of Upper Marlboro exults in the "glorious" 40-inch flat-screen television that arrived before Christmas and anchors the family room from its perch atop a console. "There's no hiding this baby," she says. "Considering what it cost" -- $1,400 -- "it's worth displaying proudly. It was more expensive than a lot of my furniture, after all."

Since flat-screen TVs hit the market in 1998, they have grown larger, thinner and less costly. That first year, the average flat-panel retailed for about $6,000, according to the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, a trade group for manufacturers and retailers. By 2003, the average price had dropped to $3,200. This year sets will average about $1,800, although the smallest models, often used in kitchens and bathrooms, are in the $200 range, says Megan Pollock, a CEA spokeswoman.

Market acceptance has been brisk. Today, one-third of all American households have a flat-panel television. And the percentage is rising. Last year, 71 percent of all TVs sold were flat, Pollock says; for 2008, the industry predicts the number will increase to 81.5 percent.

Pollock is a prime example of tech-toy pride. She made a 42-inch TV the centerpiece of her family room because the set gets so much use. One recent cold day, as she cooked in the adjoining kitchen, she picked up the remote control on the counter next to the olive oil, onion and garlic and began scrolling through the recipe for cranberry bean soup.

"I have hundreds of recipes on my laptop, and when I cook, I just download the one that I want to the TV," she says. When guests come over to her Alexandria townhouse, she uses the same big screen to display vacation and party photos.

The popularity of flat-screens is understandable. Unlike their bulky predecessors, they take up little or no floor space and need no unwieldy armoire or cabinetry to hold them. They sit easily on slim consoles and shelves, and are simple to mount on walls, either fixed in place or attached to a swing arm that extends a foot or two for optimum visibility. New models are available with color frames.

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