Home Theater Buying Guide

30 October, 2012 Life No comments
Home Theater Buying Guide

According to high-tech research firm Parks Associates and the Consumer Design & Installation Association, more than 28% of households now have  home theater system, with the number continuing to grow.

If you’re looking to join those ranks and set up your own personal media-viewing mecca, check out our home theater buying guide below for the basic information you’ll need to know.

Devices

It’s the devices that help make a home into a home theater, and you’ve got any number of choices to make up front when deciding on your set up.  There are really two options you can choose when setting up – selecting an “all-in-one” component system, or buying each piece individually.

Component Systems – Component Systems Offer DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming devices, receivers and speakers all in one convenient package that are built to work together. The advantages of component systems are that you can easily set up and control all your devices at once, but a drawback is that you may not be able to find one with all the exact features you want.

Individual Devices – Instead of going the all-in-one route, you can choose to select each media player, audio system, game console and speakers separately. Going with this option assures you can the choices and functionality you want, but you may run into problems with creating optimal connections and control systems. This can also be more expensive, especially if you’re one who likes to choose “top-of-the-line” equipment.

The Room & Seating

As you look at the size and dimensions of your room, you must also consider the configuration.  Where will everything be situated? Will you be able to run wires to all the components and speakers you need?  Think about not only how you’ll be wiring everything behind the TV, but also how you’ll be reaching the rear and surround speakers.  There are many wireless options which make this easier.

Careful thought should also be put into the type of seating you want.  What types of chairs, couches or customized theater seating are you going to have.  If it’s your standard living room, you may want to get sectional with a chaise for additional lounging. If it’s a dedicated room, you can get  posh, comfortable rows of two, three and even four leather recliners with plenty of spots for drink holders and more.

Display

All this talk about the home theater, and we’re only just now getting to the display, the visual centerpiece of your home theater system.  With HDTVs getting larger and thinner, and more affordable, choosing the display that’s right for your room, and where to put it, can be one of the most important decisions you can make. 

For starters, you’ll need to figure out if you’re going to get a 3D HDTV or not.  There are many 3D options today, some that require glasses, and some that don’t.  Will you be playing a lot of video games in your home theater, or watching many of the latest blockbusters?  Chances are, you’ll want to consider 3D.

You’ll also want to measure the distance between your seating and your TV to get the optimum size HDTV. Most retailers, such as Amazon, will provide a nice chart that give you a range of TV sizes depending on your viewing distance.  For example, if you’re going to be sitting 10 feet away, consider TVs between 40” and 80”.

Or, you could eschew the HDTV entirely and can an HD projector to project an image at whatever size you desire against a blank surface. Smart TVs (Internet connected models) also make a great option, letting you stream audio or video on-demand, or access photos, the Internet, social networking and more through downloadable apps.

Home Audio

When we think of home theater systems, we think of surround sound.  But there are different options . Do you want 5.1, or 7.1.  The first number indicates the number of speakers, and the one after the decimal point is for the subwoofer.  They’re all designed to create an immersive movie, sports or video game experience.  Don’t forget to set all your devices to the appropriate audio setting to make sure you’re taking advantage of whatever audio set up you choose.

Remotes

Now that you’ve got your home theater, you need to control the simplest and best way possible.  From all-in-one remotes, to control panels (LINKS), figure out how you want to control everything.  You can program the remote that comes with your TV or cable box to control devices, or you may want to consider a top-of-the line touch screen remote that can simply control everything.  Many components even have options to allow Apps on your tablet to work as a remote, as well.

Holiday Tech 2012: Best New Gadgets & Gear

Holiday Tech 2012: Best New Gadgets & Gear

Shopping for the best new high-tech holiday gear has never been easier, thanks to endless online bargains and deals. Just one problem: With hundreds of awesome HDTVs, smartphones, tablet PCs and other cutting-edge electronics suddenly competing for attention, choosing the perfect gift for gadget lovers isn’t always an easy task. Credit a bounty of new stocking stuffers – 2012’s must-have electronics and accessories include great gift-giving options for every interest and budget. Luckily, our team of technology experts have culled through hundreds of the best new tech toys and put together a handy cheat sheet to seven of the season’s hottest picks.

Looking to get your wish-list started? Among the year’s top selections are digital cameras, next-generation video game systems, connected television sets, eReaders, portable computing solutions, and media players of every shape and size. The following list – just a small preview of the coolest new gear available in coming weeks – can help you get a leg up on your holiday shopping. The best part: Sweet as these gadgets are, they’re just the tip of the virtual iceberg.

Apple iPhone 5

Many smartphones such as the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx (notable for its ultra-long battery life) and Samsung Galaxy S3 (recommended for its oversized screen) deserve shoppers’ attention this holiday. But Apple’s latest model, the iPhone 5, is among the very first you should keep on speed dial. Compatible with over 500,000 apps and building on its predecessors’ highlights – videoconferencing, an ultra-crisp display, cloud music streaming, etc. – with all-new features, the best just keeps on getting better.

Roughly 18% thinner, 20% lighter and considerably faster than the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 also adds high-speed 4G LTE broadband connectivity for brisk downloads, a larger 4-inch screen, and a brawny A6 processor. Letting you wirelessly stream movies, music, television and games down on-demand, the handset doesn’t just load websites, apps and media faster than ever. It also delivers better graphics and computing performance, and comes with enhanced front- and rear-facing cameras for sharper photos, slicker video recording and stutter-free teleconferencing.

The iPhone 5’s multitude of features – including a touchscreen, motion-sensing gyroscope and support for voice commands through its Siri virtual assistant – make it a supercomputer that fits in your pocket. Using the device, you can enjoy a portable media powerhouse to go, or connect with friends and family from nearly anywhere your holiday travels take you.

Wii U Video Game System

Nintendo’s motion-sensing Wii console redefined gaming for a generation. Featuring a unique tablet Game Pad controller with a dedicated 6.2-inch LCD touchscreen (offering a second view on the action, or allowing for video viewing separate from TV), successor the Wii U hopes to provide a repeat performance.

Available in two models – Basic (includes 8GB internal storage) or Deluxe (offers 32GB internal storage + Nintendo Land video game, console stand and a cradle/stand for your GamePad) – it’s a prospective game changer. Credit the ability to play groundbreaking titles such as New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, Pikmin 3, and Madden NFL 13, which allow for solo or multiplayer action across multiple screens. Better yet, awesome options are available for all ages including kids (Skylanders Giants, Just Dance 4), adults (FIFA Soccer 13, Assassin’s Creed 3) and everyone in-between (Disney’s Epic Mickey 2).

Upsides include the ability to view gameplay on both your TV and GamePad, control your television with the tablet’s touschscreen, and link up to four Wii remotes for frantic head-to-head excitement. Backwards compatible with games from the original Wii, it doesn’t skimp on forward-thinking technology either. Bonuses include Internet access for multiplayer match-ups and downloading movies, music and games; video chat capabilities; second-screen viewing experiences; and wireless connectivity that lets you interact with real-world objects.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS7

Fans of digital photography can give images a boost with this speedy and high-performing compact camera whose lens captures bright, top-quality snapshots even under low-light conditions. Whether using it to fire off bursts of pictures in rapid succession, or tape 1080 high-definition (HD) video, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the device’s premium capabilities and intuitive user interface.

Designed to work in a variety of shooting conditions, including nighttime or outdoor scenes, the device also offers a wide-angle Leica lens with 3.8X zoom functions, so you can take stunning shots from a distance. Built-in noise reduction features are simply icing on the cake, helping ensure your holiday memories look gorgeous when printed or viewed on the DMC-LX7’s 3-inch LCD screen.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3G

Literally dozens of great eReaders are available from companies like Sony (Reader), Barnes & Noble (Nook HD+) and Kobo (Arc, Glo, etc.). But don’t miss out on Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, the latest in the bestselling line of eReaders, which adds a higher-resolution and -contrast screen, and a built-in light offering 8 weeks of battery life when charged.

Avid readers will especially love the ability to download thousands of books, newspapers, magazines and more anywhere in the world using free 3G wireless or WiFi capability, all visible on its 6-inch screen even in direct sunlight. Browsing options include over 180,000 exclusives and self-published volumes, so you can catch up on everything from the latest Twilight novel to definitive works on nearly any topic. From children’s books to action-packed thrillers, you’ll be surprised at the selection – and how just akin to real-life reading the experience feels.

Want to catch up on your reading while visiting the in-laws or hitting the beach? Spare yourself the indignity (and hernia) of having to haul along a bunch of hardbacks – able to hold hundreds of volumes, it’s basically a portable library to go.

LG Intuition

Is it a smartphone or tablet – you decide. Following in the footsteps of Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note, this powerful cellular handset with oversized 5-inch screen allows for full-fledged computing performance without sacrificing pocket-ready convenience. Ideal for video viewing, Web surfing or reading, its bright colors, ample visual real estate and high-def resolution should prove a hit with road warriors.

Perfect for jotting down notes with the included stylus, the Intuition also offers lightning-quick wireless 4G LTE connectivity, WiFi support and an 8MP with LED flash. As such, it should also strike a chord with professionals hoping to boost productivity, or avid social media enthusiasts. You know what they say about all work and no play, though – running on the Android 4.0 operating system, tens of thousands of compatible apps are available. That way, whether you’re killing time waiting for a connection or happily cruising along at 10,000 feet, you’ll always have the power to summon up endless sources of entertainment on-demand.

Panasonic Viera TC-P55ST50 TV

Critics have praised this 55-inch plasma HDTV and 3D TV for its arresting picture quality, brilliant contrast and suave aesthetic. But what will really turn heads is its price – think premiere features for a fraction of the cost. Capable of displaying 1080p HD video, you’ll be able to enjoy TV shows and films at staggering levels of detail, with characters and objects that pop right out of the scenes. Of course, ultra-crisp color and 3D viewing support only enhances this effect: Don a pair of active shutter 3D glasses, and high-def images will literally burst from the screen.

Extras are plentiful too – Smart TV (a.k.a. Internet-ready) features being among the most prominent. Via Panasonic’s Viera Cast options, you can access Pandora for streaming music, enjoy video-on-demand from services like CinemaNow, and enjoy MLB, MLS and NHL news and info whenever the mood strikes. Online video won’t blur while playing either, thanks to enhanced image reproduction. But perhaps most engaging is the availability of 2D to 3D upconversion, which lets you take standard everyday content – e.g. your favorite TV shows, Blu-ray movies and online media – and screen them in 3D. Consider it a gift that keeps on giving: Put the set in your living room, and every time neighbors come to visit for holiday gatherings, their jaws will drop.

Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700

Many portable computing enthusiasts now own an iPad (and with good reason). But if you’ve been holding out on buying a tablet PC, especially if you’re torn over the decision between purchasing a more fully-featured laptop, this is the model that will make you reconsider. Among the best Android selections, The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 packs full HD resolution, a dedicated NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core CPU and serious processing muscle. Translated into plain English, that means sick 3D graphics, speedy load times and apps so powerful you’d think you were sitting in front of a desktop system.

Capable of delivering jaw-dropping 3D visuals for a fraction of the price, the tablet PC is also compatible with an optional QWERTY keyboard dock with touchpad, SD card reader and USB port that extends battery life to 14 hours. Pair the two, and you can effectively enjoy the best of both worlds, letting the Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 double as a notebook PC. Bonuses include an 8MP camera for snapping natty-looking photos, cloud storage solutions for archiving files online, and a full suite of office and productivity software. Compatible with thousands of apps, it’s a nicely portable and expandable alternative to traditional laptop systems that lets you enjoy two computing options for the price of one.

This post is part of eBay Finders, a new partnership that presents collections of items curated by a carefully selected group of electronics experts. Meet more of the Finders at ebayelectronics.tumblr.com. #eBayFinders


Buying Technology and Gadgets On a Budget

15 October, 2012 Life No comments
Buying Technology and Gadgets On a Budget

Gadgets are more than frivolities; in many instances, we need them to work and function alongside the rest of our connected society. Problem is, tech is expensive and nobody is doling out iPhones like free bowls of soup. If we want the smartphones and laptops that have become part of our day-to-day lives, we need to fend for ourselves. Luckily, with a little patience and research, it’s possible to buy the best tech and gadgets even when you’re on a budget.

From laptops to tablets, and from Android phones to desktop towers, you can find what you’re looking for on the cheap with some patience, sleuthing, and a little luck. Here are five ways to grab high-tech gadgets for cheap: 

Join the FreeCycle Network – FreeCycle (TFN)is an organization based in Arizona that hooks up people with technology by way of free “gifts.” Looking for a computer monitor that’s in decent shape? FreeCycle may be able to connect you with a person in your area who just happens to have what you need. FreeCycle is one of several worldwide networks that aims to promote the “gifting” aspect of consumer culture. Not only will you save money by participating, but you’ll help keep toxic items out of landfills—and you might even make a new friend. 

Buy the previous model of tablet/phone/laptop – Tech evolves faster than Pokemon, but yesterday’s laptop still needs a good home. Consider your needs before you go ahead and drop money on something that’s cutting-edge. For example, if you plan to use your iPhone for some serious processing and gaming, then you’re going to want your hardware to be up-to-the-second. If you’re looking to do some lighter work, like surf the web, read books, play Solitaire, or just make phone calls (who uses their phone for that anymore?), ask about pricing plans for previous models. 

Buy refurbished/second-hand items – Never turn your back on the free/refurbished tech market. It’s huge. Big box retail stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy are always refurbishing used items and putting them up for sale at massive discounts. Keep an eye out for open-box items, too. 

Watch out for “Deals of the Day” – Woot.com is the go-to site for Daily Deals, but you should also keep tabs on other major retailers’ websites, including Amazon. Manufacturers are constantly advertising blowouts and deals, though finding exactly what you need admittedly takes some luck and patience. Even so, keep checking back. You never know when you’ll score that magic item. 

Learn to do minor repairs – Learn how to make small electrical repairs: There are hundreds of resources on the Internet. We’ve unfortunately become a bit of a throw-away society, and people discard expensive electronics because of a blown bulb or a loose wire. Not only will you be able to rescue these items from thrift stores, but you’ll also find it satisfying to work with your hands. 

For more advice on buying affordable technology, visit: 

5 Tips for Nabbing Tech on the Cheap at ABC

How to Buy Used Tech Gear Cheap at BusinessWeek

The 20 Best Products Under $100 at PCMag