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How to install a flat-screen TV

By Jennifer Farrar

Associated Press

So you are finally ready to do it — spring for a sleek and modern flat-panel television.

Here’s what you need to know as you consider buying and installation:

Q. What are the different kinds of televisions out there?

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A. The two most popular types of flat-panel TVs are plasma and LCD, or liquid crystal display. Plasma TVs are better for viewing fast-motion content like sports or action movies, and also have deeper, richer levels of black, so the picture appears to have more depth. LCD screens do better in brightly lit rooms, and are somewhat slimmer and lighter than plasma sets.

Q. What do I need to know about HDTV?

A. Most network prime-time programming is already broadcast in HD, or high definition. More cable and premium movie channels are also offering HD alternatives. More DVDs are being sold in high definition as well. Most flat-panel sets are "HD-ready" — you’ll need to pay for such content and use special cables.

More manufacturers also are incorporating 1080p, the highest available resolution for HDTV, in new LCD and rear-projection televisions. Some plasma sets also have 1080p.

Q. Is this a good time to buy?

A: It’s a great time. The average selling price of a plasma television was $1,688 in February, or 35 percent below the same period a year earlier, according to statistics from NPD. The price of LCD TVs was down 7 percent to $989. Sales of both are up.

Q. What other costs am I in for?

A. There are likely several. You can spend a minimum of $100 for simple retailer-provided installation on a stand, and you’ll also probably want to pay at least $100 more for upgraded cables for high-definition viewing.

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What you’ll want to buy are high-definition multimedia interface, known as HDMI, cables, which carry the audio and video signals together. Make sure your new TV set has at least three HDMI inputs to handle your future needs, too.

If you want to hang your set on the wall, brackets to do so will start around $60. Mounting arms extend outward from the wall, and then can be tilted (downwards) towards the viewers. The better ones cost several hundred dollars.

Finally, plan on spending a minimum of $200 if you want five surround-sound speakers, plus the price of a subscription to HDTV content, via satellite or cable company.

Q. Can I install the TV set myself?

A. The easiest thing to do yourself is to purchase a tabletop stand along with the TV. Your screen will be at eye-level when you’re sitting down, and the cables will be hidden behind the furniture. The retailer usually takes care of installing the TV on the stand for you for a fee.

Q. What about just mounting it on the wall? Can I do that myself?

A. The short answer is you can, but it’s tricky. And you definitely can’t do it yourself if you want to hide the wires inside the wall. It’s not like hanging a picture. You will need to purchase separate brackets and cables, and you must be careful to attach the brackets to studs. Do-it-yourself Web sites suggest using channels, or covers, to hide the cords, or run them behind your existing entertainment wall unit if you have one.

Q. So I’m going to need an electrician, right?

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A. Even high-end installation by professionals that you can hire through most TV retailers will require the additional services of an electrician who is familiar with local building and fire codes. The pros will advise you what the electrician needs to do inside the walls. A complete wall-mount installation, including hiding wires in the walls, optimizing your settings and hooking up your surround-sound speakers, can cost $1,000 or more.

Q. Then where do you put the cable box and video recorder?

A. Your cable box and video recorder will be discreetly tucked inside your furniture below the TV set.

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