Sometimes You Just Gotta Vent
TVs and other electronic equipment need lots of breathing room. Passive ventilation is the most affordable option.
July 07, 2010 by Lisa Montgomery

Flat-panel TVs have opened the design floodgates wide open. Given their slim profiles and sexy aesthetic, they can go places where old console TVs never could. They can squeeze comfortably into tiny dens, hang safely away from grime and grease in garages and coexist peacefully with living room art collections. That wasn’t the case, unfortunately, in this master bathroom. A huge vanity mirror, shower stall, bathtub and windows left no open horizontal surface on which to mount a flat-panel TV.

Wall space may have been in short demand in this narrow, galley-style bathroom, but the homeowners weren’t nearly ready to throw in the towel. They had seen an “invisible mirror TV” during a recent hotel stay, and thought it would be the ideal solution to their dilemma. And since the bathroom was being completely renovated, anyway, installing the display behind a new mirror would be a piece of cake … right? The custom electronics pros (CE pros) at Audio Video Concepts, Columbia, Ill., thought so too, but the installation would be a bit more involved then simply slapping a TV to the wall and covering it with a pane of glass.

For starters, the TV would need to breathe, says AVC president Rob Roessler. In other words, there would need to be a way for the air behind the mirror to escape.

After the existing mirror was removed and the wall stripped to its studs, the AVC team framed in a 20-inch LG LCD TV and prewired it for eventual connection to a pair of Niles in-ceiling speakers and to a rack of source components stashed in a nearby closet. The team then hung a pretreated (see Mirror Images below) sheet of two-way glass over the TV, leaving a small gap at the top of the mirror so that plenty of air could circulate behind it.

This passive method of ventilation is usually adequate for small TVs, says Roessler, and precludes the expense of specialty ventilation equipment, which is often necessary for larger TVs and video projectors that have been recessed into walls and ceilings.

Also critical to the operation of a behind-the-mirror TV is the proper handheld remote control. Infrared signals are unable to pass through two-way glass, so a radio frequency (RF) clicker is the only way to go, says Roessler. The owners know commands from the URC MX-350 remote have been received when the TV, otherwise invisible, appears through the mirror. From there, the owners can tune in to news, sports or the weather. The RF signal travels just as easily through closet doors as it does through the two-way mirror. 

Mirror Images
How do you get a TV to appear behind a mirror? The CE pros at Audio Video Concepts, Columbia, Ill., were willing to share some of their trade secrets.
—Many two-way mirrors have a blue tint. Avoid them. Spend the extra money for a sheet with no coloration. Images will look clearer and more vibrant.
—If the mirror will protrude from the wall slightly (for ventilation), paint the backside of the mirror black except for where the TV images will project. This will block any light from passing through the mirror, which would enable you to see through the glass to the wall—bad for both the use of the mirror and the TV. 
—Buy a bright TV, or at least ask your CE pro to boost the brightness setting. Even then, don’t expect images from a mirror TV to ever look as good as a TV that’s uncovered, says Roessler.

Click here to read more about this entire award-winning master suite renovation.

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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