The Case for Two TVs in One Living Room

Click to viewIf you're upgrading your TV, you might wonder what to do with the old one. Girlfriends and traditionalists will say get rid of it or kick it to another room in the house. But I say keep it set up next to your new one, side by side. Screw picture in picture, this is picture AND picture. One set can casually play a movie while I play a slow video game; one can be set to the Xbox while the girlfriend watches America's Next Top Model. No one fights over the remote any more. It's crazy, I realize that. But it works. As long as you avoid the major pitfalls:

Although this setup works for a pair with different media consumption values, this setup does work for a 21st century stimulation-overload junkie who has a hard time sitting through a movie without checking email every once in awhile. Is there information overload in this setup? Although audio cross talk occurs at times, it's not really a problem, visually. After all, we're used to multiple monitors and windows on a desktop for work.

Audio is a big issue: You can either use wireless headphones, like a nice surround set, for gaming or movies while the other person in the room watches their content undisturbed. When playing games and watching TV, I generally will keep a game on the lower end of the volume spectrum, muting the TV when something good comes on.

Offset brands: You'll want different brand TVs, ideally. The sets might look off from each other, but when you're trying to change the channel, power up and raise the volume on one and both TVs respond accordingly, you'll be annoyed. In that case, you have to get up and use the controls on the set, or block the IR signal on one side of the room using your hand on the remote's emitter.

One step at a time: If you're going to go two TVs at once, more power to you, but you're going to pay out the nose and might end up compromising your set quality because you're bouncing off your credit card limits. Buy one set now, and one a few paychecks later. You'll spend twice as much money, but feel only half as terrible. (And, you'll have time to earn some cheddar between the splurge.)

Projectors make it clean: If you're only buying one at a time, I recommend handing down your old TV to yourself, placing it next to your shiny new set that cost you every penny you could afford (or rationalize).

Power: If possible, plug your TV sucking sets into two separate outlets. Might as well load your power strips evenly.

An eye-sore solution: Yes, it can be. If you've got adequate wall space, you may want to spring for a projector as long as you can control the light in your room, you'll be fine. And if the two TV setup isn't working, just move the projector to another room. (Although that advice goes for a second LCD/Plasma, too.)

Source setup: Instead of swapping cables all the time, I'd set up one machine to work as a games/media center machine, and the other as a TV and movie machine.

Colors: The two sets will need to be calibrated in regards to each other. When looking at one screen at a time, the eyes adjust to slight tinting. Two screens next to each other will make skin tone and white balance issues very apparent. A quick and dirty fix is to set up the TVs' color using a white screen (or scene with a lot of white) adjusting it so they're similar, and check against various sources when done, paying attention to skin tone, etc.

Maybe this won't work: You might need to get a smaller TV or a very wide TV to fit the set in your room. That could be a dealbreaker for many, and I think I'd agree that if space is a concern, you're probably better off with a single, large TV. I've got my two sets perched against a long wall, on a long piece of furniture that supports two 50-inch sets, although each set hangs off the edge a bit.

The significant other factor: Your special person will sometimes want to watch romantic comedies without having to watch you play Halo in their peripheral vision, on mute or not. The only solution there is a two-room setup, or a HUD. (Or a divorce.) Just let it go. And play Game Boy. In my case, I get away with it, but Lisa thinks very little of the setup, even though she benefits from the fruits of such a system regularly:

The Case for Two TVs in One Living Room

I use work as my excuse. But I stand by it. I don't worry about having to sit through terrible reality TV shows any more. And I'm sure in 15 years, the idea of a single video feed filtering into the living room at once will seem as antiquated as the idea of a family huddling around a giant oak-cabinet TV with a tiny, low-res, black and white, 4-inch CRT in the center.

UPDATE: Cool, some people have written in to describe a similar setup. Email me photos and description of your gear, telling and showing me what you watch on it. I'll put em in a future post.