YourTechExplained Holiday Gift Guide: Home Theater Edition
Nvidia Shield TV
My main setup for television content is my Nvidia Shield TV. It’s a little overkill for Android TV, but it’s also the one that receives the most support. The Shield offers a great single input environment for my TV consumption. I have all the latest and greatest apps for binge streaming: Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and Plex — they’re all here. If you want to tow the line of copyrighting, then Kodi is available too. I’ve been hard pressed to find an app that I can’t use on my Nvidia Shield TV!
As with most Nvidia products there’s a heavy focus on gaming. The unit can be bundled with a Xbox style gaming remote that is surprisingly effective and comfortable. Pair that with their gaming suite and you have a pretty capable setup for the casual to serious gamer. You can stream or mirror PC level games on the Shield TV with the added horsepower the Nvidia architecture supplies.
The kicker here is the support. Nvidia has offered frequent updates to the platform. Google Assistant for the Shield was the first Android TV device to get this capability. It was also the first to receive YouTube TV and SmartThings updates. Plus, with the 2017 model, you even get an IR remote that allows for your auxiliary devices like TV volume or soundbars to work with a little extra setup. For me, the Shield TV is the near perfect unit for me to accomplish all my television needs under a single input on my big screen.
Roku Streaming Stick+
Over the past year, I’ve become a huge fan of Roku and their latest Roku Streaming Stick+ — it offers amazing value for the price and size. This little stick from Roku provides 4K UHD HDR playback at up to 60fps, giving you access to the highest quality video. With Dolby audio and DTS pass-through via HDMI you’ll also be able to get the highest quality audio.
The hardware is only part of what makes the Roku Streaming Stick+ special, the other half is the selection of apps. Roku has a huge selection of streaming apps to choose from — whether you’re wanting to binge watch using Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon — Roku has you covered. You can also stream from several TV networks such as HBO, Showtime, ABC, Fox, NBC, and more. If you’re interested in music you can also use apps like Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, and more. With access to over 5,000+ streaming channels, you’re sure to find something you want to watch.
Logitech Harmony Home Hub
If you’re looking to add some voice control to your TV and other home theater equipment, then the Logitech Harmony Home Hub is perfect for you. This little remote hub is Amazon certified to work with Alexa, however, it has no support for Google Assistant at this time. Using the Logitech Harmony Home Hub allows you to combine up to 8 remotes and other apps into one single app which turns your smartphone or tablet into the ultimate universal remote. This isn’t my favorite feature though. My favorite feature is the added voice control with Alexa. With this enabled, you can turn on your TV, lights, set-top boxes, gaming consoles, Roku, and more.
If you were waiting for it to get even better, it does. The Logitech Harmony Home Hub has the ability to combine actions, for example saying “movie time” could turn on your TV and dim your lights at the same time. It’s a little pricey but if you’ve gotten hooked on home automation and controlling as much as possible with your voice, then it’s a great addition to your smart home.
Chromecast Ultra or Chromecast Audio
Another great choice if you’re in the market for a dongle is Chromecast Ultra or Chromecast Audio. Chromecast Ultra is a 4K video streaming dongle that supports many of the most popular apps such as Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube, HBO, ABC, CBS, and more. With the exception of Amazon Video, it has you pretty much covered when it comes to streaming. If you’re a Google Assistant user this is one area the Chromecast Ultra has an advantage over other streaming sticks. Assistant ties right in with the Chromecast Ultra and you can ask it to play videos on your TV from apps like Netflix, YouTube, HBO Now, and more.
Chromecast Audio is the audio counterpart to the video-centric Chromecast. If you have a stereo system that lacks internet connectivity and streaming, Chromecast Audio adds these features for you. This is great for those of us with a nice audio system at home that just want to add some internet streaming. There are Bluetooth adapters you could try but Chromecast Audio is superior in quality and lacks the distance restrictions.
Apple TV 4K
Andrew talked about the Android side of things with the Shield, and Jason talked about Roku, I’ll be bringing up Apple’s offering with their latest, the Apple TV 4K. If you don’t have an Apple TV yet, definitely get the 4K option, if you have one but don’t have a 4K TV then there’s no reason to upgrade now. The 4K adds a lot more detail and coloring in anything that you’ll be viewing on your set.
Apple TV in general is a great media option if you are in the Apple ecosystem (you won’t get AS much joy from it if you don’t use many of Apple’s services). The layout is easy, big, and simple to navigate, and the remote that’s included is very smooth. You also get Siri support and a Homekit Hub embedded to add more of an all-around experience to your home. While most everything else is the same with the new 4K and the old Apple TV, you’ll want to go ahead and pay the premium to have a “future proofed” product.
Any 4K HDR TV
This is dead simple as well. Nowadays, 4K technology has gotten much cheaper and is becoming the norm thanks to new and remastered movies and Netflix originals. You still won’t find cable networks upgrading to 4K quality anytime soon because of bandwidth cost, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting a new 4K TV. You can get decent ones now between $400-800, depending on size and brand.
You’ll also want to make sure it’s HDR enabled instead of just a normal 4K TV. HDR increases the contrast shown in the colors of your highly detailed TV so the shadows are dark and the highlights are brighter. This can create a more dramatic picture when viewing your favorite movie or show. A lot of 4K TVs have HDR built-in without a noticeable price hike as well. Also remember, a 4K HDR TV paired with an Apple TV 4K is a much better investment than that smart, store brand TV.
Thanks for reading this week’s holiday gift guide! Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll cover a new area of holiday gift recommendations in the tech world. Have something specific you want to see us cover? Put it in the comment below!