Smart Living Room Upgrades
3 Living Room Tech Upgrades 02:51
Want to polarize a room? Ask people whether you should see a TV or hide a TV. Some people like to see them, mounted on the wall in all their glory. Others don’t find it as charming, and would rather keep all that technology under wraps. Thanks to some slick new technology, all the tech in your TV room can be hidden — in fact, you could be sitting in someone’s TV room right now and not even know it. Crazy, ain’t it?
Let’s go back in time: Hiding your old tube TV used to mean having a big bulky cabinet that wasn’t fooling anyone. Now, thanks to the ubiquitous flat screen, it’s easier than ever to make your TV scarce. An attractive console has a built-in lift that can hide up to 60 inches of television. The built-in infrared technology means there’s no additional hardware needed, and it also comes with it’s own remote control and ventilated shelves, so all that equipment stays nice and cool.
A Super-Smart DVR
DVRs (or digital video recorders) are pretty standard in most homes with a cable or satellite service, but upgrading your DVR to one like the TiVo Roamio could mean getting a larger hard drive, customized recommendations or “wish lists” that will record anything including, say, your favorite actor, and access to cable and local TV as well as streaming boxes and apps like YouTube or Vimeo.
Streaming Movie Services
DVDs don’t have to take up valuable real estate in your living room. You can view movies on a service like Netflix across all your devices, and now with its much-loved exclusive series (Orange is the New Black! House of Cards!), the service may actually offer more than your old DVD collection could.
Streaming Media Boxes
With access to thousands of movies, TV episodes and digital video content, streaming boxes like Roku have mastered the art of delivering content to your TV. Boxes (or their smaller “stick” counterparts) install in minutes, and a large amount of the content is free.
Instead of shuffling through a pile of ungainly remotes every time you want to command a different box, you can give the control to a universal remote such as Logitech’s Harmony — which can replace up to eight remotes. The Home Control edition can even take on smart devices such as your lights and shades.
Too cold … too warm … who wants to keep pausing House Hunters to adjust the thermostat? Nest controls your climate by learning your house’s heating and cooling patterns, plus with its iPhone-inspired style, it looks sleek on a wall. You can also control it via smart devices.
What light from yonder window breaks, creating glare in the middle of the screen? Motorized window treatments like Lutron can be controlled by remote or app, and programmed to preempt the sun’s interruption to your programs.
Channel your inner art collector by masking your flat-screen behind artwork when it's not in use. In HGTV Smart Home 2013’s version, original designs are printed on app-controlled canvases that roll and lower on demand.
Televisions like the LG Smart TV respond to your voice, so you can skip reaching for the remote, and don’t need to click through an endless menu of commands. Say “Find me a romantic movie,” for instance, and love will be in the air(waves).
Boost your TV’s sound quality with an attractive, wall-mounted wireless speaker like the Sonos Playbar. Turn down the volume, and the Playbar will boost detail on dialogue so you don’t miss a word, and when the TV is off, you can use it to stream audio from your smartphone.
Now what about those speakers? Remember when having movie theater-quality surround sound meant big, clunky speakers scattered around your room, or (shudder) mounted to your ceiling? Sonos’ modular system is streamlined and versatile. The sleek Soundbar acts as your “left/center/right” and mounts discretely under your television. Then small-but-mighty Play 1 speakers sit behind you. Add a sub-woofer and you’ve got true 5.1 surround sound. But the best part is when movie night is over you can take those two rear speakers to other rooms of the house, and use the Soundbar to play music.
Roku & Roku Streaming Stick
The little Roku set-top box has been lauded as the king of streaming devices, thanks to its ability to access more than 200,000 shows and films — some free, some pay-as-you-go. The Streaming Stick is a thumb drive version that plugs into the back of your set and can travel with you.
Call Google’s streaming dongle the bargain pick. At about $35, it plugs into the back of your TV, but has no remote: You control it via smartphone or tablet (some people like that, others don’t). It works with apps such as Netflix and HBO GO, and can also mirror your smartphone screen.
Amazon Fire TV & Stick
If you’re a gamer, then Amazon Fire may be your streaming device of choice. It offers access to 500+ games, while promising three times the processing power of Apple TV or Roku, plus a voice search that actually works. And of course, it’s a natural at streaming Amazon Prime programming.
This box sends shows from the TV to your devices, letting you simultaneously stream up to four shows on different gadgets. It can also download your favorite shows to those devices, so you can watch them on the go (though some shows will be no-no’s because of copyright laws).
This box streams live content from your television to your devices — wherever you are in the world. Flying to Paris? You can still see your local news. The minus: It will tie up your TV while in use, and the mobile apps cost extra.
Apple TV is made to work seamlessly with Apple products — including the AirPlay feature, which lets you mirror what’s on your screen, or stream directly from your devices to your television. And with a $30 price drop and the addition of HBO’s streaming service, it may appeal to non-Apple devotees, too.
Got a big collection of videos, pictures and movies? Western Digital’s box specializes in playing an extensive variety of file formats (like .AVI, .MOV and .MPEG), so you can send them from your devices to your television without getting an annoying error message.
Lastly, let’s thin out all those boxes. You’ve got a VCR, DVD, Blu-ray, receiver … it’s a pile of black boxes and a tangled mess of cables. Replace most of it with a tiny streaming stick. Just plug one in to the HDMI port on the back of your screen, and stream TV shows, movies, music, web videos, even video games right to your television. No wires, no boxes … no brainer.
With all this new tech your entertainment system is there when you want it, and POOF when you don’t.