In a recent blog post, I talked about a new technology for creating invisible speakers. This is just one element of a larger movement to camouflage our technology systems so that they don’t dominate the décor of our homes. When I started in this industry about 40 years ago, the opposite was essentially true – you actually wanted to show off your technology as much as possible. The bigger the speakers you had, the better. The same went for TVs – although they were only up to about 25 inches diagonal back then! (However, some of the built-in consoles of the day were pretty massive!) So, does all this effort to shrink, hide and disguise our technology hurt its performance? The answer is, “it depends” – please read on for more details…
Figure 1 – Old-fashioned TV
My very first pair of speakers were a pair of Polk SDA SRS behemoths. They were over 5-feet tall, nearly 2-feet wide and had twelve drivers on each side. They were impressively massive and sounded equally fantastic! Nowadays, though, you’d be hard pressed to find any speaker visible in a home environment, yet alone a giant tower model. Is technology that much better today that we can get the same sound in a speaker 1/20th the size? The simple answer is an emphatic “no”! But the real answer is that material science and other technological advancements have allowed small speakers to sound much better than they did in the past. The laws of physics still apply, however, and all really high-end speaker systems are quite large, just like in the old days. There are some great new technologies, however, for when you desire performance, but just don’t want to see ugly speakers, even including flush-mounted grilles in your walls and ceilings.
The aforementioned invisible speakers are downright amazing, considering that they don’t even have a grille. The sound isn’t as good as the equivalent-cost box speaker, but it’s quite good, nonetheless. There are also new designs called “small aperture speakers”. Instead of being completely invisible, they have a tiny, approximately four-inch diameter or square grill, so they look like a high-end light in your ceiling. Like the invisible speakers, you are paying a lot for the camouflage, but the performance is still quite good. Expect to pay two to five times the cost of the equivalent box speaker for an invisible or almost-invisible model!
Figure 2 – Small aperture speaker – those little square next to the lights have big sound!
Other than speakers, your TV is probably the largest thing in your living room, and, arguably, the biggest eyesore. But how do you hide a big, flatscreen TV but still keep it accessible to watch when you need it? There are several options, actually.
The first one is an idea that has been around for 20 years or more. You basically put your TV in a frame, and the artwork simply rolls up or down in front of it, depending on whether you want to watch TV or look at art. This is a very elegant solution in my opinion – it doesn’t affect the quality of the image at all, and it camouflages the TV quite effectively. The only drawback is the price. Typically these systems cost several thousands of dollars – much more than you probably paid for the TV in the first place. But if interior design is your priority, then this is an excellent way to go!
Figure 3 – Artscreen by Vutec motorized TV frame
The second option is to purchase a TV that tries to pretend that it is art on the wall. Samsung’s “Frame” TVs have been doing this successfully for several years now. Instead of a normal black bezel, the Frame TVs come in a variety of elegant frame-like options. Then, when not in use, the whole TV displays an image of your choice, or cycles between multiple images. The artwork is typically shown with a virtual mat, thus enhancing the illusion that the TV is actually a framed piece of art. The TV performance in these cases is not the top-of-the-line, but you really don’t sacrifice much performance in the name of aesthetics!
Figure 4 – Samsung’s Frame TV – would you have guessed it’s a TV?
The final option for disguising your TV is another one I really like. In this case, the manufacturer has chosen to hide a full 120-inch projection theater system in what appears to be a normal credenza. The big screen magically rises from the credenza as the ultra-short-throw (UST) projector moves forward in a motorized drawer. Check out Aegis’ website for some cool videos and design options.
Top Modern Designs for Audio Video Cabinets | Aegis AV Cabinets
Figure 5 – Aegis AV’s 120-inch rising-screen credenza projection system
Disguising or camouflaging your technology systems, especially speakers and televisions, is definitely doable with modern technology. You will most likely sacrifice some performance and pay quite a bit more for not seeing your equipment. But it can be an effective way to sneak technology into a space that otherwise wouldn’t allow it. Why give up audio and video in your beautiful interior design when you can have it all? Your Arizona Sound & Light design consultant will be happy to go over all of the options with you!