Like something out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, the new 36″ flat panel, HDTV with 1080p resolution silently rises from its hiding place from within a beautiful antique oak cabinet and swivels to the perfect viewing angle. In another home, an oil painting slowly eases aside, exposing the 42″ HDTV built into the wall behind it. All of this, with the mere touch of a remote control. New technology? Absolutely not. This is a case of revitalized technology.
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The development of technology does not always doom an existing industry to obsolescense. In the case of the 50-year-old TV “lift” industry, the evolution of flat panel, high definition television sets has ignited a resurgence in demand to “hide away” the television. Let’s face it: 30, 40, and 50-inch wide screens are large, unsightly black rectangles when not in use that can disturb a room’s well appointed decor.

“The television lift is one of the most exciting products today. If you’re designing a house upfront and can build the television and lift into the wall, then a piece of art on the wall can move up and down – and it can even be a Van Gogh,” says Michael Laugesen, president and owner of Icon Group, a designer of control and theater systems for homes and businesses.

The lift industry’s good fortune can be tied directly to the design elements that make flat panel technology so appealing to the consumer. For many decades, lifts had to be built to accomodate 200+ pound, deep-box television sets. Today, with a typical 42″ flat panel weighing approximately 80 pounds, the lifting is quite a bit easier. The flat panel profile, now down to 4-5 inches, means that building the television into walls, embedding the item into a piece of antique furniture, heirloom trunks and even ceilings is also more easily accomplished.


The new lifts mean you can press a button to make the TV appear or disappear in nearly any room. They transform the true meaning of multi-purpose. The multi-purpose theme is especially advantageous to city dwellers. With limited square footage, a penthouse apartment can now accommodate many needs. They can get more use out of their space. The more people are seeing it, the more they want it.

For nearly 10 years, Laugesen has relied on the 50-year-old firm Auton Motorized Systems. He favors them because for many years, the Valencia, California-based company created lifts for bulky, heavy television sets. Since the technology had to accommodate size and weight requirements that are staggering in comparison to current flat panel television sets, durability and quality construction became the norm. Also, the company offers standard lift sizes that serve 95 percent of the televisions now on the market.

“They have good technical drawings that I can submit to builders so that the appropriate spaces can be built into a new home. Their product is reliable. With other companies, the quality isn’t there. A few service calls to fix a faulty lift is the plague to us. A crummy lift hurts the whole project. I haven’t had any Auton lift break.”

The timing for the technology is perfect because more and more high-end clients now want electronically integrated homes. Now they want to press a button to get the whole house to liven up. Not just the lights, but sound and media and other things.

Southern Swivel

In Alabama, an antique cabinet is now home to a hi-tech lift and flat-panel TV. The mating of Old South and Brave New World was a risky proposition, says Mike Thomas, sole proprietor of Thomas Audio Video, based in Hayden. But the retrofit was successful because the new lift systems are strong and easy to use.

“We took a hundred-year-old piece of furniture and had it modified so it could incorporate a lift. You’re taking a huge liability to chop up somebody’s antique furniture. That was my biggest concern – chopping up furniture that’s priceless. But it went perfect. Modern technology fit into a 1908 piece of furniture. It was an amazing experience for us.”

It helped that the Auton lift Thomas incorporated has screws on the motor that allow installers to adjust within 1/32nd of an inch. An adjustment range of 1/16th of an inch is the norm with other products. Also, the lifts come with a four-year unconditional warranty and all products are made from 10/12 field metal, he says. The flexibility and strength of a lift are important because whether in the home or office, the TV must not only come and go but also swivel on command. The lift in the antique cabinet installation is a prime example. “It literally comes up out of the middle of the furniture, it moves forty inches, then you have the ability to swivel it left or right – all with the push of a button.”


Lift inventor Virgil Walker started in 1955. His first rack and pinion television lift soon followed and business grew rapidly as television sets became more affordable. The advent of the flat-panel televisions has given his company a new lift.

For the old-style TV, he recalls, people bought big cabinets. Now that the industry uses transistors instead of tubes, the weight requirements have dropped dramatically, from an 800-pound gorilla to a svelte 75 pounds. As a result, Walker’s lifts can now make flat-panel TVs disappear into a ceiling, wall, floor or beloved piece of furniture. And the lifts can even tilt a TV as much as 95 degrees so that the viewer “doesn’t get a crick in his neck.”

“When we came out with the lift we did it to hide the TV set. That was our concept, hide the TV. We accomplished it, then the next major feature was to be able to turn or swivel it. We have a motorized swivel. That was a biggie. 3-D is going to be a biggie. It’s a couple years down the pike, but it’s coming.”

Installers like Thomas and Laugesen also see new opportunities on the horizon. “I think there will be a lot more applications that will be available. There are all kinds of possibilities. If you can imagine it, it can be done with a lift,” says Thomas.

For more information, contact Auton Motorized Systems, 27555 Avenue Scott, Valencia, CA 91355; Phone( 661) 257-9282; Fax (661)-295-5638;
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