Should you mount your TV above a fireplace?

Here’s an experiment: Pick a show about real estate or interior design—literally any of them will do—and look up how many times a TV appears mounted above a fireplace. This happens so often it could be a drinking game. This happens so often that you might think it’s a good idea. Let’s be perfectly clear: it’s a terrible idea.

We get it: A fireplace is often the focal point of a room, so throw your gorgeous new TV in the same spot feels like the real thing, especially if you have limited space. Even some TV manufacturers seem to support the idea (just look at some of the photos in this article). But before you start digging holes, let us list the many reasons we ask you to reconsider this decision.

Heat + electronics = bad

Seriously, TCL? TCL / TCL

Heat is one of the biggest causes of electronic device failure. If you’ve ever received an overheating alert on your phone, you have first-hand experience of the problem. Increased heat can lead to reduced electrical resistance, which translates into higher than expected voltages. This is one of the reasons why desktop and laptop computers have internal cooling fans. However, TVs rarely come equipped with fans to dissipate heat (no one wants to hear a fan whirring while watching their favorite show).

Unfortunately, most fireplaces give off a lot of heat — that’s their original purpose, after all. Heat does not only threaten TVs when electricity flows through them. If your TV is constantly exposed to temperature fluctuations due to a nearby fireplace, its internal components can go through cycles of expansion and contraction which will also lead to failure over time.

Electronics don’t care about heat, much less smoke. Have you ever seen the windows of a smoker’s car? Unless the smoking driver is an equally regular window washer, those windows are covered in a foggy layer of grime. Exposed to the smoke of burning wood, a similar film can build up on components inside the television cabinet. As these particles accumulate, so does the heat generated by the TV.

To make sure we weren’t just blowing smoke, we spoke with Brian Sevigny, owner of Portland, Oregon-based A/V installation service Digital Connex. He told us that he is often asked to install televisions above fireplaces. When we asked him if he encourages or discourages exercise, he jumped in quickly. “It’s discouraging,” Sevigny said firmly, “primarily because of the heat and the smoke.”

Smoke can only affect TVs mounted above a wood burning fireplace, but the only way to avoid the heat is to install an electric fireplace and keep it in flame only mode (as opposed to flame+heat).

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It’s a pain in the neck

Sony Bravia XR-X92 mounted above the fireplace.Sony, you break our hearts (and kill our necks). Sony

Placing the TV high or above the fireplace moves the image you’re trying to view well above eye level, forcing you to tilt your head back. Think back to the last time you went to the cinema and had to sit in one of the first three rows. Chances are good that you left the cinema with a stiff neck. Stretching your neck for a long period of time will cause temporary discomfort, but if you do it even briefly, day after day, it can have lasting effects, such as chronic headaches.

Neck headaches become a problem when you start jutting your chin forward in that “look up” position.

We spoke with Brad Simpson, physical therapist and clinical director at Life’s Work Physical Therapy. Simpson’s clinic treats patients with many types of musculoskeletal problems, and he is an expert in ergonomics. Simpson says that repeated sitting in an unnatural position can have long-term consequences.

“It ends up putting your body in a position where your deep neck stabilizers, muscle-wise — it’s like the core of your lower back, but up in your neck — can’t function. That position where you have to push your head forward and up to watch the television puts a strain on those muscles,” Simpson said. “The head turned forward like this causes a shearing force in the central part of the cervical spine. That’s where a lot of the pain ends up coming from… you lose the ability to stabilize your neck.”

Muscle pain isn’t the only thing you can suffer from. Headaches are a big problem in our population, and neck headaches also become a problem when you start jutting your chin forward in that “look up” position, Simpson said. He also pointed out that this poor posture leads to improper breathing, which causes us to overuse certain muscles, becoming another source of pain. The main takeaway from our interview: it’s not worth the pain.

Six degrees of separation from a beautiful picture

There is no debate on this issue. We review many TVs every year, and viewing angle on LED/LCD TVs remains an issue, even among high-end TVs.

The reason is the LCD matrix — the part of the screen that creates the image — and is used on all LCD, LED and QLED TVs. The matrix consists of many tiny shuttered windows. These shutters open and close to let the backlight of the TV through. The problem with these windows is that they have a narrow ideal viewing angle. Their sweet spot is dead center, both vertically and horizontally. If you move too far left, right, up or down, you will only see a fraction of the light produced. The result is a washed-out, lifeless picture – hardly what you had in mind when you laid down your hard-earned cash for a new TV.

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The good news is that you have some options to alleviate this problem. The first is to buy a wall mount with enough downward slope to give you a more vertical view of the screen. Even better is a bracket that will lower the TV closer to your eye level (make sure the fireplace is not in use). Either option will improve brightness, color saturation, and contrast.

Another option is to buy an OLED TV (not to be confused with a QLED TV), which has an almost infinite viewing angle and will look amazing no matter how high you place the TV. There are many other reasons why OLED wins the OLED vs. QLED TV battle. If an OLED TV isn’t an option for you, consider an LED TV that uses an IPS LCD panel — they have wider viewing angles than competing VA-style panels.

It’s just not stylish

Although we may have a sense for the color-blind hippo design (no offense to hippos, but they does spend a lot of time in the mud), we’re really good at finding experts for almost anything. So we turned to Garrison Hullinger, owner of Garrison Hullinger Interior Design. We asked him if he had a television set above the fireplace. “No, I live in a house that’s over 100 years old and I would never put a TV in my formal living room above the fireplace,” Hullinger told us. “We also have a beach house with a fireplace in the formal living room and decided not to hang a TV in that room.”

tv-over-fireplace-1.jpg?fit=720%2C720&p=1A great example of what not to do: A TV above a fireplace that is directly lit by two recessed ceiling lights. Image used with permission of the copyright holder

Yet again, most modern homes have rooms built around this idea. Hullinger told us that about 25% of the homes he’s entered have one wired location and are ready for a TV above the fireplace. Sevigny echoed that assessment when he told us that almost all of the new builds he’s seen “will have electrical and coax connections already installed above the fireplace.”

We can think of only one way to significantly reduce the inherent ugliness of the large, dark rectangle hovering above your fireplace: buy a TV that can do double duty as an art frame when you’re not watching it. Samsung’s two lifestyle TV models, aptly named The Frame and The Serif, can display a wide variety of artwork or information screens when not in use. OLED TVs from the LG Gallery series are another option. If your fireplace wall has a particularly unique look, you can mirror that look onto the screen instead.

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Since this article was first written, we’ve tried to keep an eye out for well-thought-out counterarguments. So far, most of them boil down to: “these problems aren’t really problems if you’re using a real TV mount,” which we assume is mostly true. But the right mounting technique is only part of the answer.

But I have to (or want to) anyway. What can I do to make the most of it?

In an ideal world, you would place the TV in another room that is purpose-built for TV enjoyment and perhaps make music the center of your main living space. But everyone’s space is unique and comes with different limitations, and some spaces may not give you an alternative to placing the TV above the fireplace. Or you just like the way it looks, regardless of the problems it presents. If you absolutely insist on ignoring our advice from above, we have a few suggestions on how to make the most of it.

  • Reduce the heat: CloudNine AV’s Dave Napoleon says that placing a fireplace over a fireplace can significantly reduce the amount of heat rising toward your TV. Installing built-in fans can also help by redirecting heat into the room and away from the TV.
  • Sit further away if you can: The further you sit from the TV, the less you have to stretch your neck to see it properly.
  • Relax: Sit back and watch TV from a lying position. You will completely eliminate the need to stretch your neck.
  • Use a tilting or motorized wall mount: Changing the angle of the TV can improve picture quality by giving you a more direct view of the screen.
  • Go with OLED: In addition to providing an outstanding picture and a super-slim profile, OLED TVs create fewer viewing angle issues. Just be aware that, as mentioned above, electronics aren’t exactly fans of heat and smoke, so be extra careful with your expensive new OLED.
  • Do not light a fire and watch TV at the same time: The flickering of the fire and the extra brightness of the TV in a darkened room can play with your pupils and strain your eyes while watching. It’s also a little distracting. If the two are close, it’s best to enjoy them one at a time.
  • Hire a professional installer: A professional will be able to handle cable management for a clean install, and they come armed with other helpful suggestions to help you get the most out of your TV installation.

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