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Expert Column: Universal Mounts

Dec 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Eric Mancini

Going beyond the basics to select the right mount.


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Choosing the right mount, such as the Polaris ceiling model pictured here, is not always as easy a task as it may seem.

Has this ever happened to you? A friend or a client needs a mount for a flatpanel display or projector. The type of display or projector is inconsequential — it could be a new model or a warehouse special that has been pieced together from three different SKUs and sold as a complete unit. The problem is that you can't find any specs on the unit. And to make matters worse, you're not even sure if the model number is correct.

What do you do? If you're like many integrators, you spec a “universal” mount and consider the problem solved. And come installation day, the gear arrives right on time — and it doesn't fit.

Unfortunately, for many installers, this scenario is all too familiar. With anywhere from 600 to 2,000 new models of flatpanel displays and projectors being introduced yearly, it's not going to get simpler — unless, of course, you know what to look for when selecting a mount.

Universal mounts are a fantastic resource, and they should be a staple of any integrator's arsenal. In fact, it's not uncommon for integrators to carry a few favorite go-to universal mounts in their trucks. However, the simple truth is, even though universal mounts are easy to install, offer high profit margins, and are seldom out of stock from the manufacturer, they aren't always the perfect solution for every situation.

While the concept of a universal mount is widely accepted, the truth is that not all universal mounts are created equal, nor do they always fit properly with the display or projector the client has selected.

Beyond the basics of size, position, and budget, how do you know then what to look for in a universal mount? Fear not. By identifying and examining a few simple considerations, the process of selecting the right mount will no longer be a daunting or frustrating experience.

GET THE FACTS UP FRONT

When it comes to choosing the right mount, you can't have too much information. Reputable mount manufacturers don't mind sharing technical data and will often provide schematics, high-resolution images, installation manuals, and even computer-aided design (CAD) files to their dealers through their website. Usually, this information can be found on the specific product pages of the website, but some manufacturers also offer an online resource center where you can search and download all the technical documents you need.

WHAT GOES UP NEEDS TO STAY UP

Take a close look at the hardware included with each mount. The better hardware packs include screws with integrated washers, plus alternative security hardware. Depending on which mount you elect to use, the hardware should screw directly into threaded inserts that are welded or formed into the body of the mount.

In the case of projector mounts, this will give you a solid surface to torque against and will provide maximum holding power that will stand the test of time. This also means fewer return visits to adjust the image, and a greater likelihood that you will not receive an irate call from your client. Finally, because you may have to take the projector down for service or relocation, avoid self-tapping screws as they can only be installed once before they start to strip.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

Make sure your mount is made from quality material. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised to learn what goes into making some of the mounting products on the market today. Mounts with blends of tin, porous aluminum, and less than Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)-grade plastic abound at a cheap price on the Web.

Consumers, bless their hearts, usually think all mounts are pretty much the same, and they will often ask for a mount based primarily on a low price point. It's up to manufacturers, dealers, and installers to make sure clients know that while quality materials may cost a bit more, they're well worth the expense when you're hanging a 30lb. object above your head.

DON'T BUY WHAT YOU DON'T NEED

Mounts are generally categorized by how they move — flat mounts offer no movement, tilting mounts tilt up or down, and swingout arms articulate in many ways to offer multiple display options.

If you need to point a display in more than one direction, or wish to pull it out of a nook, recess, or cabinet, a swingout arm is the optimal choice. The decision between choosing a flat or tilt mount is often a bit trickier. More often than not, a flat mount will work just fine. Tilting mounts are typically needed only when the display will be mounted significantly higher than the average seated-viewing height (somewhere in the neighborhood of 42in. to 48in. to center of screen).

TEMPLATE FOR SUCCESS

Some of the better mounts include lightweight mounting templates that aid in locating and pre-drilling your pilot holes. Clients love to be able to see exactly where their TV will go before it's mounted. And let's face it, your back will be much happier holding a piece of cardboard or paper in place for approval instead of that 50in. display.

LEAVE YOURSELF ROOM TO MOVE

In the past, rigid mounts left little room for error. You measured carefully, drilled your holes where the studs should be, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, few rooms are built square and studs are often not where you need them. To compensate for these types of discrepancies, mount manufacturers started adding built-in lateral shift into their mount designs. This wiggle room enables installers to place the mount on the closest studs and shift the display just slightly to match up to their ideal viewing location.

GO WITH A NAME YOU KNOW AND TRUST

Because your reputation is on the line with every installation, make sure to select a mount from a reputable company that has a solid history and a solid warranty to match. Also, look for products that have been tested by a licensed agency such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or similar safety-conscious organizations. The longer the warranty and the more certifications on the product, the more confident you and your client can feel.

You also want to protect your client's investment. Regardless of where they live, a built-in security device can leave your customer with a good feeling that they got something extra. And for installations in high-traffic areas, a theft deterrent is essential. Most flatpanel mounts include items such as security knobs, special security hardware, slots for the insertion of padlocks, etc. If the mount you're considering doesn't mention anything about a security device in the product description, chances are it won't be in the box, either.

SET YOUR STANDARDS HIGH

According to their website, Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) is an “international non-profit corporation dedicated to developing and promoting open standards for the high-tech marketplace, focusing on display and display interconnect developments that ensure interoperability and encourage innovation and market growth.” To that end, VESA has established guidelines for mounting patterns on flatpanel displays from the smallest to the largest TVs out there.

Unfortunately, a large number of display manufacturers either choose to ignore these guidelines, misinterpret them, or select the wrong specifications completely. Large displays commonly have very small mounting patterns, which can cause the TV to wobble. In other cases, mounting patterns on the outer fringes of a display can make them difficult to grab without making the mount extend beyond the display. Your best bet is to confirm the mounting pattern of a VESA-compliant display and/or mount prior to ordering.

PREPARE FOR OFF-THE-WALL MOUNTING CHALLENGES

We've already discussed criteria for selecting quality universal mounts, as well as some basic standards for mounting patterns. There is, however, one more variable to consider before choosing your mount — the installation site. It's true that most flat panel displays installed on walls and projectors are hung from ceilings.

But what about the client that wants to hang a 103in. plasma off a 2in. tube truss or suspend a projector vertically off an I-beam? Unorthodox installations require that you not only consider the mount, but also the availability and compatibility of adapters and accessories that may be required. To that end, you need to spec a universal mount that can not only fit a wide variety of display sizes, but can also mate with ceiling adapters, mount to floor stands, offers rotation, or can be held static.

FIND A ONE-OF-A-KIND SOLUTION

While universal mounts offer many advantages, custom or dedicated mounts made specifically for a certain flatpanel frame or projector chassis offer one last alternative to consider. These mounts often offer a lower profile and have significantly less hardware clutter. However, a dedicated mount doesn't always offer the extra wiggle room to overcome unforeseen variances in stud locations as we discussed earlier.

If you truly want the best mount possible, you can always have one custom built. Some mount manufacturers have entire divisions dedicated to the design, fabrication, and delivery of custom-tailored mounting solutions. Custom shops can usually do everything from the basic modification of a stock mount to creating a full-scale model based on customer specifications. Custom finishes are also very popular.

MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION

As you've seen, when it comes to choosing a mount, there are plenty of options and lots of things to consider. Often times, the most expensive mount (or the one with the most features) isn't necessarily the best mount for the job. And conversely, buying a mount based solely on price can have disastrous consequences.

The best thing you can do is to take a good look at the big picture. Make sure you fully understand your client's needs and expectations. Then find manufacturers you can trust and get all the facts up front about any mount you might be considering. Finally, consider the installation site, weigh feature, and price options — and then make an informed decision both you and your client can live with.


Eric Mancini is product manager at Premier Mounts in Anaheim, Calif., where he is responsible for overseeing product planning and lifecycle.



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