Hollywood Star Hides 103-inch Plasma in Ceiling
485-pound Panasonic plasma lowers from ceiling in about 10 seconds.
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May 03, 2010 by Steven Castle

Have a 103-inch plasma descend from the ceiling? Ben Henkel and his team at Integrated Systems (iSys) in Tarzana, Calif., didn’t know if it had been done.

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Panasonic’s titanic plasma screen had mounting holes for its own wall-mount system, but not for any commercially available motorized lift on the market. A lift would have to be completely customized. So Henkel turned to Art Walker at Activated Designs in Valencia, Calif., to make something that could carry the 485-pounder.

Walker built a pretty standard but heavy-duty lift that uses a rack-and-pinion like mechanism to lower the plasma from a 4-by-10-foot wall cavity above this great room/family room/rec room. Walker’s lift lowers the plasma in about 10 seconds, says Henkel. And Walker’s elegant lift also uses hydraulics, so it doesn’t sound like a freight train when it lowers the plasma out of the ceiling.

The plasma lowers on side rails in the cavity, but the only visible piece of the lift when it’s in place is the center post.

Getting the lift and plasma screen in place were challenges in and of themselves. By the time the lift was ready to be installed, the ceiling had been framed out, so Henkel’s crew had to take the lift apart and install it in three parts. This meant making sure they lined up the two side rails perfectly. The lift installation took two nights. Then it was time to hoist 485 pounds of 1080p-capable HD. This requires some scaffolding, six men, and a lot of care. But Walker’s customized mounting system worked to perfection, and the 103-inch display was soon doing the old up and down in this room.

The mammoth plasma screen wasn’t the only unique aspect of this installation, though. The owner of the house, a Hollywood actor who lives in the Hollywood Hills overlooking L.A., wanted to be able to view the plasma screen while he was relaxing on the patio by the pool. The mount was designed so the plasma could be rotated 65 degrees to face the patio.

Because of the unique viewing alternatives, the plasma is in the center of the space, which is divided by cabinets beneath the screen. Three Triad InCeiling Mini/8 LCRs provide the front-channel sound, and four more Triad InCeiling Silver/8 Omni SEs supply the surround channels. However, when the actor is on the patio or watching something like CNN, he can press a button on an RTI T2 color touchpanel remote to switch to 7-channel stereo sound, using the full array of surround speakers to listen in simple two-channel stereo.

Two subwoofers boom some bass—and both are hidden. A Velodyne DD-15 fires from the front cabinets, while an in-wall Triad sub rocks ’em from the back side wall.

The equipment rack is in a nearby closet, home to a Lexicon processor and amplifier, Sony Blu-ray player, DirecTV HD receiver, Furman power conditioner, RTI control processor and Triad subwoofer amp.

But we all know the real star of this room. “The whole room was designed around the plasma and the lift,” says Henkel.

How They Did It
Walker has been crafting customized TV lifts for decades. He started with rack-and-pinion-type lifts, in which the TV is transported via a mechanism that travels up and down on side rails via gears. He has since moved on to more innovative mechanisms and takes pride in finding the quietest motors around.

Walker makes sure to overbuild his lifts because “my clients are celebrities and millionaires, and one job leads to others. I want them to be impressed and blown away and tell their friends.”

For the first lift mechanism used on Panasonic’s behemoth 103-inch plasma, Walker went back to basics with a rack-and-pinion design, but this one had a twist. Instead of using a mammoth support that would have to span the approximate 8-foot width of the screen, Walker cut its size to just 20 inches wide. This saved about 250 pounds, Walker says, and meant that the rails that supported the mechanism had to face the front and back of the TV instead of the sides.

Walker typically supports the side walls of an attic well with cross braces, so the walls and side rails won’t come apart. But having the rack-and-pinion mechanism in this different configuration precluded that, so he used a carriage system that grabs the gear rails and prevents them from pulling apart.

He also used a 220-volt, three-phase motor that allows the lift to accelerate, cruise, and decelerate. It lowers and raises the 485 pounds of plasma a total of 6 feet in 10 slick and smooth seconds.

Walker also crafted a custom mount to the back of the big display, removing the stainless steel posts for Panasonic’s floor stand and replacing them with 1-inch-diameter bolts attached to his own 50-pound steel bracket.

He’s now working other wonders with Panasonic’s 103-inch display. He has one that cantilevers on a pivot on the party deck of a yacht.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

Installer/Equipment List

System Design & Installation
Integrated Systems
Tarzana, Calif.

Custom Motorized Lift
Activated Designs
Valencia. Calif.

Room Size
20 by 35 feet

Lexicon MV-5
Lexicon RX-7
Panasonic TH103PFUK
Sony BDP-S301
DirecTV HR21
Furman IT-Reference 15i
Triad Gold 8 Mini Monitor (3)
Triad Silver 8 Omni SE (4)
Custom 103” Plasma Lift w/ Rotate
Velodyne DD-15
Triad In Wall Bronze Subwoofer
Triad Subwoofer Amplifier
Middle Atlantic ERK 44

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