How people consume media has evolved a lot in the last decade. It used to be that any kind of serious TV or movie-watcher needed a full-wall entertainment center to handle their setup, but these days physical media collections are going digital, you need a whole lot less equipment to access a vast array of content, and many people are as likely to watch the latest episode of their favorite show on a tablet as on a TV. So the first step in overhauling your living room should be asking a few simple questions about how you consume media – and what kind of furniture you need to make it work.
1. How Much Hardware Do You Have?
The first and most important step in figuring out what kind of entertainment center or TV stand you need actually has nothing to do at all with your TV and everything to do with what and how much stuff you need to hook up to it. First, consider how you get your TV service: do you have a cable box, a Roku, or something else? What about a DVD or Blu-ray player? You’ll need an entertainment center that can accommodate any and all hardware that isn’t built directly into your TV, and more sophisticated add-ons, like sound systems, receivers, and video game consoles not only need adequate shelf space, but also sometimes special treatment, like good air circulation (to prevent overheating). Lots of TV add-ons have some overlap – you probably don’t need a Playstation and a Roku and a blu-ray player – but before you start shopping for a TV stand, you should assess everything you have (and anything you’re considering upgrading with) and make sure you can accommodate all of it.
On the flip side, these days many TVs have a “smart” design that allows them to connect wirelessly to the internet (and all your favorite streaming services) without any additional hardware. That means if you’ve cut the cable, you’re happy with your TV’s on-board sound, and you’re not much of a gamer you might not have equipment BUT your TV. If your setup is as simple as a Chromecast and a single universal remote, what your entertainment center should look like will depend a lot more on…
2: What Does Your Physical Media Collection Look Like (And Do You Want It On Display)?
Entertainment centers of yore (by which I mean, like, the 90s) were as much about showing off your media collection as actually giving you a place to put your TV. But if you’ve retired your LaserDisc collection, you might not need library-style accommodations flanking your flatscreen. That said, this decision is as much a matter of personal taste as it is the size of your collection. It’s still possible to find (and even easier to custom build) entertainment centers that let you showcase your DVDs, Blu-rays, video games, and even books and CDs. But by and large the trend lately is to only display a few – if any – bits of media and maybe a few artistic trinkets, letting the TV itself take center stage and keeping the adjacent wall from feeling overly weighty.
3: How Big Is Your TV?
Now here’s where your TV itself comes into play: regardless of any other design details or features, you want a TV stand that properly fits the scale of your television. Now, this can be a bit of a fussy decision (especially because a new TV stand may very well outlast a new TV), but as a rule of thumb your TV stand should always be wider than the TV itself, by at least a few inches on either side. This will keep your setup from feeling top heavy and can improve the stability of a TV on a stand. That said, a smaller TV will feel adrift in an over-large entertainment center, especially if it’s on a stand rather than wall mounted. So if you’ve gotten this far and decided you need a lot of storage, cabinet, and display space, make sure you have a TV that’s worthy of your ideal setup!
4: How Do You Want To Mount Your TV?
TVs are a lot smaller and lighter than they used to be, which means they’re also a lot more versatile in how you can set them up. Old CRT TVs were big and bulky and needed a hefty base to stand on, no exceptions. But lightweight flat screen TVs almost universally come with two features: built in but removable stands that let you sit the TV anywhere you want to, and brackets on the back that allow you to attach the TV to a mount and mount it on your wall. Either installation can work for most setups, but wall mounted TVs are generally considered more stylish, since they have a more streamlined appearance and give you a little more surface space – plus protection from jostling or knocking over your TV.
Simply setting your TV directly on a stand is developing something of a quaint feeling, which makes it a better option for a lower-tech living room, especially if you’d like a TV stand that feels more like an accent piece than a tech-cabinet. Decorative TV stands are generally a little less functional when it comes to having lots of gadgets (they lack storage space, and what they do have is often walled-in, a no-no for consoles that are prone to overheating), but they’re more than adequate for a small TV, cable box, DVD player, and maybe a nice vase or a few favorite DVDs.
It’s also increasingly common to find stands with built-in mounts, ranging from simple metal support bars to full wood backings. This will save you the trouble of having to drill into your wall to mount your TV (or having to pay someone to do it for you!), and can also help organize or even hide unsightly cords running to and from your TV. Stands with post-style mounts are generally smaller (and great for renters), while ones with wood backing are typically much larger, designed for putting a big TV front and center – and even literally putting it in the limelight!
There is no such thing as the “perfect” entertainment center, just the one that’s best for how you’re going to use it. So whether you’re a movie buff, a hardcore gamer, or just someone who wants to keep up with a show or two, the trick to building a home theater you love is figuring out what you need and scaling your purchase accordingly.