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TVs are everywhere, but there's no TV room in homes today

When Bob Cain wants to lounge and watch a ball game, he most often heads to the front room of his house and flips on the flat-screen over the fireplace.

Jeff Giacoponello and his family had their Warminster home rewired to accommodate technology of the future. Meanwhile, they have four flat-screen TVs. (April Saul / Staff Photographer)
Jeff Giacoponello and his family had their Warminster home rewired to accommodate technology of the future. Meanwhile, they have four flat-screen TVs. (April Saul / Staff Photographer)Read more

When Bob Cain wants to lounge and watch a ball game, he most often heads to the front room of his house and flips on the flat-screen over the fireplace.

In Cain's youth, perhaps, he wouldn't have been alone in this hearth-warming scene around the TV, but these days, it's just Cain and the Eagles or Phillies.

"There is no such thing as a TV room, here or anywhere," said Cain, whose Mount Laurel-based Smart Home Integration wires new and old homes alike. "And now people want even more - a TV in every room."

It was not long ago that an essential component for selling a house was a "TV room," a place that could accommodate some couches and a few comfy chairs angled for multiple-person viewing. Now, between the explosion of available channels, the burgeoning number of devices for multimedia viewing, and the shrinking size of homes, the TV room is going the way of the land line. In some cases, solo viewing is the only chance for "me time."

"If I advertised a TV room in a house today, people would be asking me, 'What is that?' " said Deborah Grassi, a longtime agent for Coldwell Banker James C. Otten Real Estate in Stone Harbor. And for her summer Shore rentals, forget it. "You have to have a TV in every room. You never know who wants to be where.

"I think it is just a myth that people want to watch together. In my house, it is an opportunity to do our own things - alone."

In fact, TV itself is moving away from the central TV. Hulu and YouTube have made the computer and handhelds into primary entertainment viewing devices, while cable and other TV connection services are just trying to stay afloat. Verizon, for instance, in November rolled out Flex View, which currently has 2,000 on-demand titles that can be downloaded or rented for mobile devices. Even the idea of needing a room, let alone labeling one as the place to watch TV, is fast becoming obsolete.

"The modernist architects would say that a house always responds to the technology that is introduced," said James Moustafellos, associate director for the Center for Design + Innovation at Temple University's Fox School of Business. "When TV was introduced, people disguised it as a piece of furniture. Socially, people didn't know how to integrate it."

Then came the TV room, with its updating over the years. But now technology has superseded it.

"Now TV is a fluid thing. The technology is at once bigger and smaller and smaller, but it is mobile, too," Moustafellos said.

Jeff and Danielle Giacoponello and their 17-year-old daughter, Catrina, are among those people who anticipate their TV needs evolving with the times. When they recently moved into a 10-year-old home in Warminster, they had Cain rewire it so they could be prepared for any technological future. Currently, they have four flat-screen TVs: One is over the fireplace in an open room with a 30-foot ceiling; another is over the sink in the kitchen area that adjoins it. A 46-inch flat screen lives in the master bedroom, and a 22-incher is on a swivel in the master bathroom, where there is a Jacuzzi - just right for a soak-and-watch.

"On Sundays, for instance, we can watch one game on the set over the fireplace while another one is on over the sink," Giacoponello said. "Then the Jacuzzi is a great place to watch that 4 p.m. game and relax."

Cain rewired the house and put a huge console in what used to be a pantry. It includes gaming storage and Blu-ray outlets, plus a surge-protected system that will be ready in any room if the Giacoponellos decide to move things around.

"In the 1990s, you left a few openings for cable jacks in a couple of rooms . . . and that was that," said Cain. "Now everyone wants to be wired - or wireless - everywhere."

And it's not just families with kids who are savvy about home-viewing technology. Garo Hovnanian, whose business, J.S. Hovnanian & Sons, is building four 55-and-over communities in the Philadelphia area, said retirees are more sophisticated than ever about their viewing places.

"Overwhelmingly . . . they want places for TVs everywhere," he said. "If you are 55, it doesn't mean you don't use computers to watch your TV. People want exercise rooms off the master bedroom, so they put a flat screen in there to watch while biking, too.

"It may be that there is no single TV room any more, but that every room is the TV room."

In fact, the idea that families have always watched TV together may itself be a myth. A study of American family TV viewing habits by sociologist Sonia Livingstone of the University of London did show that in the 1950s, it was relatively rare for children ages 10 to 13 to watch TV on their own - nearly 90 percent of their viewing time was spent with an adult in the room. But that changed once homes had more than one set, which started to be the norm by the late 1960s.

"In some ways, it is no different than the advent of central heating or air-conditioning," said Temple's Moustafellos. "When most of the heat in a house was from a central fireplace or other outlet, families lounged together in one room. Once heat was everywhere in the winter or coolness was everywhere in the summer, they could disperse."

Moustafellos lives in an old house that has a nook once called a "telephone room," where people could hear with less noise interference. Technological changes squelched the telephone room, much as they now have the TV room.

Further, said Jason Schaeffer, president of Tim Schaeffer Communities, a West Berlin-based builder, homes are becoming smaller because of the recession, a trend he sees continuing even when good times return.

Without a TV room, other rooms can increase in size. "That way you can have this big open space with a great room and a dining room and a kitchen all in one, and the house actually has less square footage."

But this is likely to change too, said Moustafellos. "House plans have moved with technology for a century" and "probably will change yet again."