The idea of the "smart home" has been around for decades, if not even longer, but we can safely say that it is here, at least where your entertainment is concerned. As a TV lover, you probably want a seamless and immersive viewing experience, complete with the ability to skip commercials, get perfect sound, and switch to channels and programs of your choice in an instant.
All of that is possible, to one degree or another, with the use of modern technology and smart devices. Many of the types of which will be listed below. The couch potatoes among us can rejoice, as you can do more without uncovering the blankets and getting up to do, well, anything. In an age of infinite content, we can focus more easily on what we want to watch and what we want to do. Even settings and exact timings can be honed and perfected. We will be more efficient in our relaxation.
Yet all of this requires some investment in terms of both time and money. Most of which will be painless with the right information and preparation. Keep on reading to learn more about some of the best tools you can find for your home and living room.
In truth, the exact answer to this question will depend on the setup of your entertainment system, how committed you are to learning the systems, how many people are in your household, and how much you use your television. It will also depend on how many smart home devices you want to have installed. We focus on a smart home here instead of just smart devices for TV lovers because, in truth, most of these things are interconnected and will have multiple uses outside of amusement.
Once you get used to them, the most significant differences will either be related to efficiency or convenience. You will be able to control more with less, gain access to more with the same time and resources, and get access to a lot more content and functionality. You will be able to order content with a voice command, have it play and pause at your leisure, and enjoy it in the finest way possible. You will then be able to change settings to your liking with ease, meaning you spend more time watching and less time fiddling.
Just how much of a difference you want a smart home or even a smart living room to make it up to you. There is an argument to be made for a simpler lifestyle outside of these gadgets, and you might not want them to have a hold over a lot of your life. Perhaps you just want to turn things on more quickly and have your entertainment setup centralized. If that is all you want, then these smart home devices can accommodate as well.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, and in some cases, getting two types of products listed below would be redundant, we think that you will be able to get everything you need using the devices below. While we will not recommend any specific product or brand at this time (as such a recommendation would get outdated quickly), we hope to tell you what to look out for and encourage you to make product comparisons and take notes as to exactly what you might be looking for.
Without further wait, here are the product types to search the web and stores for:
1. A Universal Remote or Smart Remote
At this point, the terms might be somewhat interchangeable depending on how advanced either might be. No matter the case, you will want an advanced remote control for your home devices and gadgets.
With one of these, you will be able to control multiple other smart (or not so smart) entertainment devices in your home, switching between them with just the press of a button. More advanced models also act as transmitters of information, allowing you to see what you might want with a color screen and context-sensitive buttons.
Most universal remotes or smart remotes focus on entertainment systems and keeping all your players and televisions under the same hand, but some remotes allow you to control additional gadgets. While there are apps (or collections of apps) that allow for the remote control of entertainment devices, we find that you probably want to use your smartphone for other things rather than keeping the control app open all the time.
As for the cost, they can vary from just a bit more costly than a regular remote to hundreds of dollars, but we recommend mid-range models for all but the thriftiest or people with tons of devices to control.
2. A Smart Power Strip
Having smart power strips in your home makes a lot of sense. It is better to save power when possible, and remembering to turn off every device can be a hassle at the best of times and much worse when you are in a hurry. A smart power strip can allow you to turn off the strip remotely or even specific power slots remotely. While you might not want to turn certain things off in such a manner depending on the device, you can control things such as fans or lights with one without fear, making otherwise dumb devices just a bit brighter.
Most smart power strips have a form of surge protection in them, making sure that an unexpected outage or similar incident does not damage your expensive entertainment setup. Conversely, a smart power strip can safely shut down items that go into standby mode, reducing power usage. Using this logic, a smart power strip might pay for itself in power savings in the long run.
Smart power strips are affordable, usable over a long period, and simply make sense to have in nearly every home. They may even be a point of safety.
3. A Smart Media Streamer
A term such as "media streamer" seems rather vague, and admittedly it is. Yet how else could one describe devices such as the Roku or Amazon Fire Stick, devices that allow for quick streaming of content to your television. It is a cheaper option than a gaming console or other secondary device. There may be a service attached that effectively can act as a cable replacement for some people (though certainly not all).
In terms of smart functions, voice commands and a wide range of connectivity is on the table depending on the exact device, and with most of the tech giants in on the game, you should find a device that fits well in your household.
Which exact device will be best for your home will depend on what content you want and what companies you generally order from or work with the most. Amazon's Fire Stick will be an excellent choice for those who use Prime video a lot. Yet, Roku might be best for those interested in different content offerings. The same goes for Apple TV, etc.
4. A Smart Home Hub
How on earth do your coordinate all of these devices in your home? If you have only a couple of things, then they are certainly manageable. Still, after a certain point, you will need to coordinate, or else the smart home will feel as though it is less efficient, with all of the different remotes, apps, commands, and potential maintenance to deal with. However, if you master all of the potential triggers and voice commands, you will feel like a wizard in your own home. For example, you can program specific devices to turn on just through the act of coming home or leaving.
For these situations, we recommend that you get a smart home hub, which will allow you to control a wide variety of devices. You might know then as the Amazon Echo (perhaps commonly referred to as Alexa) or something like the Apple HomePod. There are multiple manufacturers, and most of them might also act as smart speakers (more on them later) as well.
As for which smart home hub is best for your household, that will depend on your budget, how important the speaker quality is to you, and what services you use most often. Apple product users might want to get a smart home hub from Apple. Amazon users will want the Echo or another similar product in their ecosystem. Outside of this, you might want to consider setup, the sophistication of routines, and what potentially connected devices are most important for you.
5. Smart Speakers
When you are watching TV, sound can be everything. Imagine watching some films and not being able to notice the distinct sound effects. Furthermore, the background music in whatever you are watching or experiencing should ideally be coming not just from the TV but from your actual background as well.
With smart speakers and a smart home hub, a universal remote, or your smartphone, you will be able to control a lot more about your sound system than you thought possible. Additionally, smart speakers can also act as a smart home hub, albeit the most dedicated sound fanatics out there will still want to make a separate purchase or at least a few additional ones. Think of the difference between a speaker you play while in your kitchen cooking versus what you use to watch the latest movie release.
Good smart speakers also will have additional purposes. They allow conversations on your phone to take place no matter where you are, orders to be made, or requests for music (or your favorite audiobook) put in with just a voice command. A quality smart speaker is one of your smart home's main extensions, and its uses are many.
6. A Smart Lighting System
Smart lighting makes sense for many reasons, from potentially being easier on the eyes to saving power to making things easier when you are moving objects around the house. Smart lighting can also make your entertainment experience a lot better as well.
Smart lighting can take many forms and have multiple functions. Perhaps you want some colored mood lighting in your living room when you are watching a movie, in which case color control and adjustable dimness would be recommended. Alternatively, you might just want to be able to control whether the lights are on or not from your couch or keep things just bright enough so that you do not stub your toe on the coffee table.
Smart lighting systems are not only helpful to you, but they are generally more energy-efficient as well. Turning lights off automatically if you forget to can be a great benefit and save lightbulb time. Being able to control the light level also helps when you do not want all that energy brightening the space before bedtime.
If you are feeling mischievous, you can even set up your smart lighting system so that you clandestinely turn off the lights at just the right point during a horror movie. Not that we would recommend such a thing, of course.
7. A Smart TV
Avoiding a smart TV these days might seem like a tougher task than getting one in the first place. Nearly every new television made today will have some smart features, from basic streaming connectivity to several USB ports to expand functionality. They are by no means computers like modern tablets or smartphones, but the smart TV (especially some with touch screens) can do far more than you think.
As for smart TVs' quality, they can differ wildly, and you should be aware of this. Some might only have a couple of connectivity features, while others have everything you could dream of. Some might have poor signal reception (meaning streaming might be more difficult than one would expect), and others work like a dream. This is one product category you will want to look into more closely.
Fortunately, as far as setup is concerned with smart TVs, it will be a breeze considering that companies have put in great effort to make sure that anyone can use them. Most also allow for apps to expand their functionality, although they are generally limited to streaming and media functions.
There are also some potential issues with smart TVs some households will want to know about. There are reports of advertisements on menus that you cannot easily turn off, automatic updates that can cause issues with the television, and more. Smart televisions can also potentially collect data on how you use the device, perhaps to better advertise to users later. Those who value their privacy would be wise to carefully select the smart television manufacturer and then what apps you download.
8. A Smart Projector
As an alternative to television, have you considered a projector instead? While many are expensive, they might not be as expensive as the largest televisions available, and we promise that the picture quality will be much better than what you saw in your science class.
What makes a projector smart? For the most part, most of the same features that might make a television smart. While streaming options might be a bit more limited, and depending on the model, there might be fewer ports, there are options such as directly streaming content and videos from your phone, making setup a breeze. Voice controls and remote control are likely, and there might be access to an app store or portal, allowing for easy access to popular content sources, depending on the projector.
Additionally, many smart projectors are designed with portability in mind, allowing you to bring this fantastic piece of your entertainment center with you when going on a vacation or visiting people.
Alongside your smart projector, you might want to get a decent screen to improve your picture quality (your wall might not be the best option), and you also might want to make sure that your home has a nice setup for a projector. While projectors have certainly advanced in quality, darkened rooms and as little interference as possible are still recommended for the best possible experience. Some may or may not use specialized lamps and lights to improve picture quality (it will depend on the model).
When picking out a smart projector, you will want to consider the resolution, lumens, whether there are additional features such as voice control, potential apps and connections, and the device's portability. Pairing with smart speakers and smart lighting can make for a genuinely theater-like experience.
9. The Smart Sofa
While the idea of a smart sofa might just seem a little far-fetched even in today's world, they do exist. Either furniture makers or tech companies have been trying to include connectivity into everything from phones to toasters, and seating has not escaped this trend.
Yet what exactly does a smart couch or smart sofa do? Good question. From our research, different models and prototypes have done the following:
While we only recommend the purchase of a smart sofa to those with a good deal of disposable income and a predisposition towards experimentation at the moment, interested people should keep an eye out in case a smart sofa (or perhaps a smart recliner) comes out that is exactly what they are looking for. It may just prove the necessary push for the perfect home entertainment experience.
10. A Smart WiFi Setup
All these devices require a connection, and you need to make sure that the connection is as solid and fast as possible. Poor routers can limit the internet speeds you are paying for and put a cap on just how smart your smart home can be. The same goes for a poor modem, but this is a less common problem. Wireless capabilities are the chief concern here, and having a smart WiFi setup or system can be an amazing investment for anyone with a smart home (or even just a smart living room).
Due to their nature, you might find that there are few special features in terms of routers, but other systems can work, and you might find that apps from smarter WiFi setups will have more options and connect to other tools. Interconnectivity is critical when you want to get things done as quickly as possible, and the more steps you need to take when making a command, the higher the chance that there could be confusion or something can go wrong.
Specifically, you might want to invest in a mesh WiFi system if you have a larger home, as these systems allow for people to have devices throughout the house, farther away from a central router. That said, a wired connection via an ethernet cable is best for bandwidth-intensive devices, and most of your TV-related smart devices will be in one room (or two rooms, if you also have a television in the bedroom).
Additional Notes and Caveats
As noted in the WiFi section, nearly every smart home device requires that you have a good internet connection before you can use them to their fullest capabilities (or use them at all). Each device will have a small effect on your bandwidth, given the need for a constant connection, and they add up, especially in the case of systems comprising multiple parts (smart lighting, in particular, can be a drain). Anyone with broadband internet should be fine, but also take care to measure your upload speed (online speed tests are readily available).
If you are wondering how much upload and download bandwidth you will need, a good rule of thumb is 12 Mbps per dozen devices download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed overall. However, if the device involves uploading or downloading video anywhere, such as with smart doorbells, you might want an additional 10 Mbps per device. This is, of course, on top of the download requirements of whatever you are streaming or downloading. Netflix is still going to be Netflix, no matter what device you use to watch it.
You may also need to check in regards to compatibility. Some of the oldest devices might not work perfectly with newer setups and central control hubs, and vice versa. If you are only getting into smart home technology now, you have little to worry about, but some more research might be warranted if you are picking a few things up. A quick search should yield you the information you need, but rarely will you run into any issues at all.
While some of the items might overlap and most of what is listed above is quite expensive, we can also say that if you change over to a smart home setup where your entertainment is concerned, you will notice the difference. After a short while, you will never want to go back. The increased ease-of-use and immersion in the viewing experience will blow you away.
We hope that the above information has helped you make a more informed decision about your household, and we encourage you to do more research into each of the above product types to find the things that will work best for you. We also encourage you to return to this page as needed and hope you bookmark it for your reference. Whatever you get, may installation and adjustment be a breeze.