Fighting temptation with your flat-panel TV
My mom was moving into a new house and planning to buy a flat-panel TV for her new living room. "Great!" I told her. "Let me know if you've got questions when you're ready to pick it out! Where are you going to put it, by the way?"
"Over the fireplace," she said. And my internal response was, "Uh-oh."
Now, despite all the pretty photos out there of happy people enjoying flat-panel TVs mounted over fireplaces, there are several reasons this isn't the best option for your main television. For one thing, neck and eye strain are common problems for folks who have to look too far up at their flat-panel. And you don't really want to make it uncomfortable when you're trying to relax and kick back in front of the TV.
For another, you're unlikely to get the benefit of your new TV's best picture with it mounted way up there, particularly if it's an LCD TV. That's because these flat-panels have an optimal viewing angle, both from left to right and from top to bottom. The best way to view these screens is as nearly front and center as possible. (If you've ever stood behind someone seated at a computer with an LCD monitor, and thought the screen seemed kind of dark until you bent down to look at it from their level, you'll know exactly what I mean.)
Last of all, unless you have one of those TV placement hutches already built into the wall above your mantel, you may have a tough time running the cables in a safe way that doesn't bring them too close to your fireplace. Even if you do have one of those hutches, and can make a safe power connection in there, you still may need to run antenna cables, audio cables, and video cables to other components sitting elsewhere in your room. Of course, you can certainly go ahead and get paintable cables or wire tracks that will hide the cables. You can even do a careful in-wall installation of these low-voltage cables with in-wall-rated wires -- but in my experience folks don't usually bother.
Of course, it's not the end of the world to try this out, but I do want to share this info and encourage people to decide for themselves whether the decorative chic of having a flat-panel over the mantel is worth more than comfortably watching a great-looking picture. If you're just not convinced, you can place your TV there temporarily and try it out for a week or two.
As for my mom -- well, she didn't buy these reasons either. However, she ended up spending the few weeks between leaving her old house and moving into her new place staying with friends who had mounted their flat-panel over the fireplace. And the neck strain of watching that TV for three weeks convinced her. Her new flat-panel is now mounted on a stand, right where my brother and I can lust after its gorgeous picture every time we're in her living room.