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Technology Showcase: Flatpanel Wall Mounts

Nov 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

The latest in function, control, and ease of use.

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Sanus Systems VisionMount LA112

The good old CRT TV was as bulky as Humpty Dumpty, and like that famous wall-sitter, it usually required a perch firmly rooted on the ground. Today's slim flatpanel displays are more suited to being elevated for easier viewing, and as a result, wall mounts for either LCD or plasma screens are evolving into more than just a practical accessory to an AV installation in the home or corporate setting. They are becoming a fashion statement.

As they grow in popularity, wall mounts are becoming more user friendly. Installation procedures are being adapted to permit supporting the mounting system either between existing wall studs or sometimes on a single stud. To fit into a sophisticated décor, the brackets are often designed to sit as flush to the wall as possible, or sometimes, recessed directly into the wall. The arms that actually hold the plasma or LCD display are usually either telescoping or articulated, and they are often equipped with swivel or tilt capabilities to angle the screen for optimal viewing orientation and to avoid glare or unwanted reflections. Several mounts are even providing motorized positioning systems so they can be moved with a handheld remote control. Fortunately, these functions can also be taught to most universal remotes to minimize the proliferation of remote-control clutter, or they can be integrated into a Creston or AMX touchpanel control system.


Another area of concern that is being addressed is wiring management, which, with the advent of relatively thick HDMI cables for high-definition screens and the need to feed AV signals to surround-sound receivers and other home theater control centers, can get to be quite complicated. A major trend in wall-mounting systems is to hide the wires within the mount's structure or arms, which gives the installation a cleaner look, prevents tangling, and keeps wires out of the reach of curious hands.

For safety, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has several standards for wall- or ceiling-mounted flatpanel displays, with standard #6500 being the most used in recent years for hanging video display products. Generally speaking, the UL requirement for flatpanel wall mounts is four times the weight of the set to be suspended, if nothing else is to be positioned on the wall mount.

Another rule that ought to be considered is part of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Since 1991, ADA has had construction guidelines or “Standards For Accessible Design,” which are intended to protect persons who are blind or suffer from low vision from running into objects that stick out into a circulation path. It prohibits objects that protrude more than 4in. into a circulation path at any point from 27in. above the finish floor to 80in. above the finish floor. The idea is that anyone using a cane or an assistance animal may detect objects that protrude into the circulation path from floor level to 27in. above the floor, and then they can navigate around the object blocking their way. Anything protruding into the circulation path more than 80in. above the floor does not typically present a danger to someone navigating through that space.

If you want to sell a wall mount for a flatpanel display or other monitoring devices to a hospital in earthquake-prone California, you will also have to comply with specifications set by California's Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD). Established after the Sylmar earthquake of 1973, OSHPD has instigated the Anchorage Pre-Approval Program that reviews and pre-approves the way mounting equipment has to attach to the wall if it is going to be used in California health facility construction. This can get very complicated, and it has to do with the weight that is to be suspended, the floor on which it is to be installed, and the part of California where the mount is intended to be installed.

Despite that complexity, an increasing number of flatpanel wall mounts have applied for OSHPD approval and certification, which is calculated on a worst-case scenario. But a significant part of the OSHPD certification comes from the Uniform Building Code, which was originally stipulated by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), which is now the International Code Council (ICC). However, starting in 2008, OSHPD will be changing its certification criteria so all the current OSHPD-certified mounts will have to eventually go through re-certification. OSHPD has not yet determined how soon the new criteria will have to be complied with by flatpanel wall-mount manufacturers.

To attach the flatscreen display, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) has specified a “Flat Display Mounting Interface” for LCD sets. VESA standards state that the mounting holes must be in one of several specific patterns on the back of a flatpanel's enclosure. That way, VESA-compliant mounts can have the exact hole patterns of the LCD display's cabinet already built into them. Common VESA screen standards are 75mm×75mm, 100mm×100mm, 200mm×100mm, and 200mm×200mm, and they can be found on most LCD screens less than 42in. in diagonal screen size.

Plasma set manufacturers have historically chosen their own mounting screw patterns — apparently because that technology was the first to reach screen sizes and weights that required extra strong mounts. For them, wall-mount companies provide universal mounting plates, which are sometimes also used for LCD screens larger than 42in. Usually further out toward the sides of the screens, these hole patterns are wider than the VESA hole patterns mentioned above. An adjustable rail system on universal adapter plates allows the rails to slide from side to side to line up with the screens mounting holes. As a result, universal mounts can fit the vast majority of all screen hole patterns, including both VESA and non-VESA patterns.

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