Are You Not Entertained? Upgrading our RV TV

by George
The TV is moved up close to the ceiling, showing that it doesn't hang low under the cupboards

Yeah, we know – we’re camping, why do we even need a TV? Well, we’re not camping, we’re living, and TV and games are a central part of modern life. When we first saw our RV it had the original CRT TVs, but these were replaced with small flat screens by the dealer. We thought that we’d just upgrade them to something a bit larger… and ended up with a 43″ screen hanging over the driver’s seat!

What was there before?

Our RV was equipped with three TVs from the factory. In the main bedroom was a 19″ CRT TV. Opposite the bunk beds was a 15″ LCD TV, with a built-in DVD player, which could also be hung outside. And up front, above the driver and passenger was a colossal 27″ CRT TV.

We did see all of the TVs working before purchase, but the dealer offered to replace the TVs as part of their sales prep.

When we picked up the RV, the two CRT TVs had indeed been replaced. In the main bedroom, we now had a 24″ LCD TV, and in the living room, there was now a 28″ LCD TV. The original LCD TV opposite the bunks was left in place.

Immediate changes

As soon as we got the RV, we removed the bunkhouse LCD. We don’t really have any DVDs, and we wanted to use the space for Olivias books. It was such a small screen anyway, if Olivia needed to watch TV in bed, she could take a tablet or laptop and have a better experience.

Opening up the space the TV used allowed us to fit in lots of books and bits for Olivia. We’ve since added an additional shelf and now you’d never know anything else was there.

I thought that we would need to replace the living room TV, but we decided to keep it for the moment.

Living with the little screen

We (or more accurately I) were into our TV and movies when we lived in a house. There was a big screen, with surround sound and high-quality sources etc. But none of that could follow us into the van.

While the 28″ screen was a big change, we thought that we would give it a go. After all, a 28″ screen was practically TV royalty when Karen and I were kids! Two issues became apparent very early on though:

No TV with the slides in

With the slides in, we had a problem that the end wall of the living room blocked the TV. Someone sitting anywhere on the sofa could only see part of the screen. Consequently, if we watched anything, it was either sat in the front seats with our necks craned up, or on a laptop. We even resorted to all climbing onto the main bed to watch movies together!

Game interfaces are designed for big screens

Mini maps, subtitles, draw distances. All of these things have clearly not been considered for small screens. While it was just about possible to read the minimap on some Lego games in single-player – two-player split-screen was laughable!

While both of these issues made us consider a replacement TV, the last straw was when one of the HDMI ports on the back of the TV broke. All the shaking while driving with a cable in place had broken the port. Our TV was a JVC bought through a third party and no warranty was going to cover it – so that was the decision made for us. The hunt for a suitable TV was on.

Finding the right TV

We wanted a TV that would last for quite a few years. While at the moment we’ve only got an original Xbox One, the replacement will be 4K compatible. Due to the layout of the van, we sit quite close to the TV for gaming so the extra resolution would be nice. We also didn’t want to have another screen that doesn’t have much repair support in the UK. This put JVC out of the picture, who make a lot of the smaller 4K screens.

We started out thinking about a slightly larger TV. Something in the 32″ range. Last time we’d bought a TV this was quite a competitive size point. However, a quick trip around the web showed that these days, manufacturers aren’t interested in 32″ screens.

Nor, it seems, are they much interested in 40″ screens. While there are more around, not many have any of the latest tech; and if they do, the reviews are poor. Clearly this was going to be a problem if we were going to find a TV that would last.

The next size up was the 43″ screen. These screens are still well served by the manufacturers, with a wide range of tech and prices. It’s such a competitive market that many 43″ screens were cheaper than their 40″ equivalents. But while we’d now found screens we liked, would one of these even fit? A quick bit of measuring showed that it was possible, though the screen would cover the edges of the cupboard either side. We decided to go for it!

So what did we buy?

The TV we bought was the Samsung 43RU7100, reviews were patchy (as most were for the larger screen). However, it was cheaply and easily available and looked pretty good. Though the other Samsung next to it at double the price looked a lot better!

The bracket we decided on was the Sandstrom SFMGL18 full-motion mount. We’d seen it in the flesh, and liked the range of movement it offered. We also really liked the release mechanism; which has two spring clips which are easily released using strings. As we needed to take the giant TV down whenever we moved, this was a key feature.

Mounting a monster

To mount the existing TV, a few lengths of wood had been bolted in to create a small, flush surface where the TV would go. Then a lightweight, thin mount had been attached, which allowed the little TV to hang nice and tight to the old TV cabinet. Apart from the mount not being all that safe for driving (a bump could lift the TV enough to fall out, though it never did), it definitely wasn’t strong enough to hold our new TV.

The fundamental idea was fine though. So we took apart the existing mount and started to refashion it. We split it into two separate bars, wide enough apart to hold the new TV bracket. Then we braced the front with a single piece of wood. Finally, we added more wood to the back. We’d created a solid bar, that wouldn’t twist, and would hold the heavy-duty bolts that came with the bracket.

After some test fitting, we attached the TV bracket to our new bar. Then, with some effort, we managed to wrestle the mount and bracket into the TV cabinet and bolted it into place. We sat back, pleased as punch with our work. For the final test, we attached the TV to the bracket, and let go…

Well, that didn’t work

The TV hung on the bracket as we gingerly removed our hand, and then finger holds on it. The cabinet creaked a little. We held our breath… and then… slowly at first but gaining momentum, the TV started to sag outward into the RV and towards the floor.

“No!” we both exclaimed, and grabbed the screen. We looked at the bracket – still attached. The cabinet – still in place. The TV had extended out on the full-motion arm of the new bracket. We pushed the TV back into the right place, and let go again. It hung in place for a few moments and then sagged forwards again until the arm was at its fullest extent.

What was going wrong? Everything was secure. Was there some adjustment we could make to the hinges? We took the TV down and scoured the bracket documents. Then finally, it hit us. The face of the old TV cabinet was tilted down for easier viewing. The old TV couldn’t move on its mount and was fine to also be tilted down. We had mounted the new TV on the same tilted axis, but our movable bracket needed to be vertical to hold its position! Gravity was pulling the TV in just the same way that we would be to move the screen.

Fixing the flaw

After a bit of a think, and re-examining the interior of the TV cabinet; we unbolted the mounting bar and twisted it up to vertical. After checking it with a spirit level, we screwed in a few self tappers to hold it in place. Then, we used cardboard templates to create solid wedges that would brace the mounting bar against the front of the cabinet, as well as allow it to bolt to the sides.

Crisis hopefully averted, we hung the TV once more, and it stayed in place! In fact, we could pull it out, twist it around etc just fine. Exactly how we had hoped it would work. Now mounted, we tilted the screen forward using the adjustable head at the top of the bracket. Then all we had to do was adjust the bracket for the weight of the TV. There’s a single adjuster to do this. There’s also a gauge there showing approximate positions for different TV weights, and at 8kg, our TV was on the lighter side.

We also chose to cut the top off of the rails that attach to the back of the TV. We wanted to be able to store the TV as high up as possible while also being able to pull the TV down as far as possible for viewing. The best position for the TV rails meant that there was a good 10cm sticking out over the TV and hitting the ceiling. We managed to cut off the excess without cutting anywhere near the spot where the rail bolts to the TV, so there should be no impact on strength or durability.

So how is the big-screen experience?

The new TV has been really good. Sure it’s a bit of a pain to have to move it whenever we drive anywhere, but the improvement everywhere else more than makes up for it. Two-player games are fun again, we can move the TV down and point it at a single chair for intense gaming sessions! Or we can slide it towards the dinette or the sofa to make a better viewing position.

There are some positions where it doesn’t look so good though. As the TV is tilted forwards, if we twist it too much at the end of the arm length, one side appears lower than the other. This is mostly because we’re closer to one side than the other, and is more of an illusion than anything. Still, if we can move it so that the TV is straight on to us, we try to do so.

We were concerned at the size, but it only takes a second to move it away from the cupboards. And with the rails trimmed, we can stow the TV tight to the ceiling, without much intrusion below the original TV cabinet.

Picture quality is much improved, and when we have decent enough internet we can even watch 4K content. Being so close to the screen at times, the difference is very noticeable. However the motion on the screen is occasionally jittery, a complaint levied at many of the cheaper 4K screens. Again, this is something we mostly ignore.

But does it work with the slides in?

We have had a chance to use it with the slide in… and yes, we could sit on the sofa and see the whole screen! We can now watch TV without straining our necks when space is tight.

Mission accomplished!

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