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Big-screen TVs are stars at home

When Neil Saval and his wife closed on a single-family home in Federal Hill, his first purchase wasn't a piece of contemporary art or a plush sofa — it was a Panasonic 60-inch flat-screen television.

"The day I settled on the house, the installers were delivering the new TV," the 29-year-old system engineer said. "My wife jokes with me that before we had any furniture, we had to get the TV."

As the NFL playoffs, Super Bowl and Hollywood awards shows — not to mention "Downton Abbey" — draw millions of viewers, big-screen televisions are getting bigger and better and more in demand. They're joined by a slew of state-of-the-art accouterments such as movie theater-quality sound systems and high-tech projection capability, as well as a camouflaged approach to installation.

"Televisions are bigger, thinner, cooler, better and brighter than ever," said Kevin Luskin, owner of the Big Screen Store in Towson. "They are not intrusive. They can go anywhere."

Seventy-inch televisions are now frequently purchased for bedrooms, according to Luskin.

"The old days of the 30-inch TV in the bedroom has gone to the wayside," said Luskin, who has a 75-inch television in his great room, a 65-inch television in his bedroom and a 110-inch projector TV in his theater room. "This is the bulk of where people live: the bedroom, kitchen, great room."

Recently there has been a push to better incorporate these huge televisions and projectors into existing home decor.

With the touch of a button, screens — sometimes exceeding 70 inches — drop from the ceiling. In some homes, flat-screen televisions have taken the place of large paintings on walls. And accessories such as speakers are now built to blend into the room as opposed to being a focal point.

"My family room loooks like a normal family room," said Brian Hudkins, president of Gramophone, which has showrooms in Columbia and Timonium. "When we want to watch a movie, we push a button, the screen comes down and we have a 100-inch projector screen with surround sound."

Hudkins calls the new approach "stealth installation." "The technology disappears," he said.

When Saval purchased his television from the Big Screen Store, he supplied the retailer with the dimensions of his family room. Based on that, the store suggested the 60-inch television, which Saval calls the "perfect size" for the room.

"Everyone who comes over says that the TV is the perfect size for where it is," he said. "It looks like a picture framed on the wall. There are no wires showing. It looks clean and crisp and doesn't look messy."

It's ideal for watching sporting events, "Modern Family" and his favorite comedies and HBO dramas.

"It's awesome. It feels like you are actually there," he said. "I don't need to go the movies anymore. I can get live streamed videos and TV shows and all that good stuff."

As a result of Saval's new purchase, he put his old 37-inch television in his bedroom.

"Now I have a television for every room in the house," he said.

Hudkins sees a growing trend of placing large televisions throughout the house.

"We are seeing people putting larger and larger TVs in what has been considered secondary rooms," said Hudkins, who started to observe a surge in bigger screens several years ago. "We're regularly getting people putting 65-70-inch TVs in bedrooms."

A decrease in prices has been accompanied by an increase in quality, retailers say.

"The quality of the picture is getting better and better," Hudkins said. "As a result, screens can get bigger and the picture quality has gotten better."

Packages can run anywhere from $2,000 for a 65-inch television with "smart" features to just over $10,000 for a 120-inch screen, state-of-the-art projector and top-quality surround sound, according to Hudkins.

As television manufacturers have battled one another to release newer, better models, prices have "trailed down," which has increased the affordability of the product, according to Luskin.

"In the next year you are going to see a greater volume of big-screen televisions and projectors, which will bring down prices," he said. "They've improved their brightness. The graininess is not there. The screens have gotten much better."

5 entertainment trends

Matching credenzas: They're perfect for housing all the bells and whistles that go along with your larger-than-life flat-screen TV. "They make a neat, complete, custom look," according to Kevin Luskin, owner of the Big Screen Store.

Multipurpose entertainment centers: More customers are using their home theaters as a multimedia center with cloud-based services and a docking area for hand-held devices. "In the future there will be a shift away from Blu-rays to a pay-per-view model," says Sean Weiner, president of Starr Systems Design in Baltimore. "All of your music content, movies and television will come from some type of subscription service."

Movie theater experience: Retailers suggest purchasing plush leather chairs that rival those found in movie theaters for optimal watching.

3-D television: Although some models are already in stores, retailers predict that the technology will be perfected within the next five to 10 years.

Clean speaker systems: These are virtually transparent and replace the tower speakers of the past. "There is a lot of sleek, built-in, nonintrusive technology," according to Luskin.

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