They lift and they lower. They rotate, swivel, and tilt… all on command. The flat-panel TV motorized lift market is a niche that continues to attract a growing number of companies. As flat panels become lighter and slimmer, lifts follow the lead, offering mechanisms for building TVs into walls and furniture in an array of installations and sizes.
Virgil Walker founder/president, Auton Motorized Systems, Valencia, California, is ready for the one-inch-deep video panel, but the hot product right now is the 120-inch flat screen, he said. And there are two to three manufacturers with those out on the market. “We have a lift for that in the design stages,” Walker explained. “Currently, the smallest screen in depth is at three inches, but a one-inch isn’t far behind, probably in the 40 or 50-inch wide screen range, and we are working on a lift for those.”
Walker added that Auton invented the rackand- pinion TV lift, and said that it remains, by far, the most reliable type of lift mechanism in the world. Auton’s hottest seller, Walker said, is the 1001-PS with up, down, and swivel for a 42-inch plasma.
IT’S ONLY NATURAL
After more than 30 years in the industry, Premier Mounts formally entered the motorized flat panel lift market at CEDIA EXPO 2008 with its Lift1 Entering the motorized lifts market was a natural progression for Draper Inc., as the trend in flatscreen displays grew. Afterall, the Spiceland, Indiana company has been manufacturing lift products for projectors for more than 20 years, said Jentry Wittkamper, product manager, lifts and mounts.
“Our entry into the market was in 2008, with three models of the FSL product,” he said. “We’re constantly working on new designs and models of display lifts that we will be introducing to the home integration and pro AV markets.”
Draper has a lower market share in flat-screen lifts because of its newcomer status to the market segment, Wittkamper acknowledged. “Our current models, FSL-F-42, FSL-F-50, and FSL-F-65, are competitively priced, and we plan to broaden our product mix to be the leading manufacturer of flat-screen lift solutions in the coming years.”
Most manufacturers tend to make rack-andpinion- style lifts, which constrict how wide a display can be and how far up you can raise it out of a cabinet, Wittkamper explained. “Our mechanism is entirely behind the display so it accommodates any size display regardless of add-on accessories. Our lift extension is 2.5 times as high as its stored position. This gives the end user and cabinet builders more freedom in design.”
As niche products, lift trends center on how they may be manipulated to swivel or tilt, mount on a ceiling or in furniture, Wittkamper added. “We have to look at ways to differentiate ourselves by doing something in the coolest way beyond basic hardware comparisons,” he said.
Although middle and high-end consumers generally can afford a lift at the time of the display purchase, a lift also has untapped upgrade opportunities, Wittkamper says. “If you look at volume sales for displays there are hundreds of thousands sold. Lift sales are a much smaller percentage in relation, but it’s enough of a percentage to be extremely interesting to us.”
Lift pioneer Auton’s hottest seller is the 1001-PS with up, down, and swivel for a 42-inch plasma.
IT TAKES TWO
“Everybody makes OK products, but I like to take it to the next level,” boasted Len Dozier, president and founder of Premier Mounts. After more than 30 years in the industry, the Anaheim, California, manufacturer formally entered the motorized flat panel lift market at CEDIA EXPO 2008 with its Lift1. The first customer was Wynn Resorts for Encore, Las Vegas.
Dozier said that the question of safety was a key design focus for his product, along with serviceability. “When I designed our flat-panel lift system, I started with a floorboard, steel reinforced, supporting up to two tons,” he said. “It’s the heart of the system. The kit is ready to go and only requires somebody to put it inside something meeting the footprint. Our system will work in the middle of the floor; the main round shaft is the key and is all enclosed with no exposed cables or gears.”
Two speeds are an additional safety feature in Premier Mounts’ product. It travels at a slower speed during initial and final lifting. It’s like going from first gear to second gear and then back to first with the same speed transition during lowering.
Premier is entering a joint relationship with U.K.-based Future Automation to present product as “Premier Mounts powered by Future Automation.” The first introduction was at last month’s InfoComm trade show in Orland, with an automated projector lift and flat panel swingout mount. “We’re taking their core electro-mechanical devices and integrating them into the North American fit and function mounting environment,” Dozier said. “In North America we have stud walls, in Europe solid walls. This partnering is good idea, and I’m a believer in good ideas.”
There is a real synergy in the attitudes and methodology of the two companies, noted Future Automation commercial director Ollie French. “We hope to start a relevant and productive partnership that will be of great value to the U.S. market place. We are very much the market leaders in the high-end residential market in Europe with our products being installed in the finest residences, palaces, and yachts across Europe. By combining our experience with motorized mounts and concealing mechanisms with Premier’s expertise in the U.S. mount market, we believe we have an extremely strong model to enter and lead the market for motorized wall mounts.”
LIFTS THAT FURNISH
A longtime hardware developer/supplier to the furniture and cabinet industry, Wood Technology of Pittsboro, North Carolina, introduced its Whisper-Ride range of flat-screen lifts four years ago. Prior to that the company had been importing TV lifts from Italy for 20 years.
“We feel that we have helped to drive the TV lift market by making more affordable lifts that are suitable for both promotionally priced case goods, as well as for use in high-end furniture pieces. Together with the Danish firm Venset we developed Whisper-Ride for flat screens up to 50 inches.”
Entering the motorized lifts market was a natural progression for Draper Inc., as the trend in flat-screen displays grew. Afterall, the Spiceland, Indiana company has been manufacturing lift products for projectors for more than 20 years.
WT’s retail price is less than $500, and they ship worldwide both direct and through multiple international distributors.
WT will be at CEDIA EXPO 2009 with three new mechanisms for flat screens up to 60 inches, as well as a new unit for holding, raising, and lowering a smart screen. The products were introduced at Neocon in Cologne, Germany, in May.
Fink said that WT’s lifts, designed from the ground up, have a rack-and-pinion drive, are very simple to install, and have a slender design taking up little space inside a cabinet. “They can rise from a cabinet or be used as a drop-down unit,” he said, “which appeals to furniture makers. Our VersaLift, for screens up to 26 inches, is suitable for use in an upper kitchen cabinet. And we’re seeing an increase in lifts being integrated directly into furniture such as the foot board of beds.”
Driven by consumer requests, Ontario’s Activated Décor has addressed safety concerns facing many TV lifts with its SMART BOX. The company has designed a controller that can be adjusted to stop a lift from descending when it encounters interference. With its new adjustable sensitivity settings, a consumer can now determine how much force may be exerted by the lift in lowering a TV before sensing an obstruction which may cause harm or damage to a person or equipment. Also designed into the SMART BOX is the ability for Activated Decors integrators to access the SMART BOX via the Internet.
UP AND DOWN ON THE WATER
In the Seattle area, where so many companies trace their genetic roots to Microsoft, loosely or otherwise, Port Orchard, Washington’s Lift It Inc. is no exception.
“My brother, Brett Branham, worked for Paul Allen’s company, Mediatel, doing very high-end AV, and Brett mentioned that lifts were a nightmare, and that his industry needed a better one,” said Lift It president, Tony Branham. “Brett and I worked on many versions of lifts for about a year, and then Brett worked for Lift It and attended trade shows until he married and left the company.”
Lift It, he said, went into production in 2004 with a mission to design a full line of lifts for all hidden TV applications. “In 2008 we started to redesign our line to better handle all TV models with fewer lift models. We offer two ascending lift models that can handle 99 percent of the available TVs. Three of our models mount into the ceiling.”
Lift It’s market includes the custom AV store or dealership as well as some retail locations. “We’re right up there now; we’ve grown quite a bit,” Branham said. “We’ve done extremely well with motor homes, boats—including luxury tugboats— and yachts.”
Lift It’s customers include some of the big boat makers, and several of its ceiling lifts are in Carnival Cruise Line suites, hospitality suites, and casinos. Our lifts also have been featured on the television show, “Trick My Truck,” where a semi truck is redone with additional features.
Lift It has re-packaged its product so that it ships in a four-color box, which is a departure from wooden pallets and SMI truck deliveries. “We can be consistent and provide easier servicing,” Branham said. “We’ve grown quite a bit, and we’re targeting more retailers. We’ve also moved into stocking so that we can ship three-day UPS with a five-year warranty whereas we used to offer only a one or two-year. We now have a 30-day return policy and a 24-hour service line. People want you to be there.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colorado.