While TVs have been getting better and better in terms of picture quality and feature bulge, there’s a part of the TV that has actually gone backwards—the sound. It’s very difficult to build a great sounding audio system into a TV that’s only 1-inch thick. This problem hasn’t changed the fact that lots of people view speakers as eyesores. When eyesore relief started coming in the form of soundbars, they were largely considered compromise products. Many didn’t sound much better than the TV speakers they were replacing. Not anymore. Over the past year we’ve been impressed with the number of high-performance speaker companies to launch new soundbars.Atlantic Technology, Paradigm, Golden Ear, Leon, Bowers & Wilkins… this could be a long list. Some include subwoofers (even wireless ones) and are designed to replace a whole surround-sound system, while others are just meant to simplify your front speaker arrangement. These new soundbars aren’t just good-looking and easy to use—they sound great. What this says to us is that the soundbar market has matured from simply a budget and decor product to a true audio-enthusiast solution. Are multispeaker setups doomed? No. If you’ve got a dedicated home theater or a room that can accommodate them, a 5- or 7- speaker setup is the way to go, but in many situations, a soundbar is no longer a compromise.
The audio dock is dead. Yep, we went there. But one part of the evolution theory states that when one niche is vacated, something else will come to fill its place (please don’t check me on the science. I was a humble English major). Anyway, this is what’s happened to the physical dock. No one wants to put their smart phone or tablet on a docking device anymore, because then it’s not available for other productive things like checking out Tumblr posts of kitten pictures. Apple replacing the old connector with the new Lightning connector was just another nail in the coffin. The dock’s replacement is local wireless streaming—Airplay, Bluetooth, DLNA and variants of that. Airplay is showing up in almost everything (except TVs, so far), and where it can’t be found, Bluetooth fills in as its lesser cousin. HTC’s Media Link is another technology that performs essentially the same functions—wireless media playback from a portable device. Sure, you may see physical docks stick around for a few years, but except for charging, there’s really no point to them anymore.
Run and managed by sophisticated microprocessors, home control systems are complex pieces of machinery. This fact hasn’t changed. What has changed is the ability for their essential programming software to be modified, adjusted and tweaked by you, the homeowner. No need to call in a professional to alter your control system’s EVENING command so the lights over the dining room table are a bit brighter. No appointment necessary to add a new FAVORITE CHANNEL button to your handheld remote. These are minor modifications you can make yourself, thanks to a movement among home control manufacturers to make their software friendly, simple and straightforward enough for most homeowners to understand and adjust on a whim. It’s a time-saver, a money-saver and puts the power back in your hands.
Lights Get Colorful
It’s possible to change the mood of a room by painting its walls a different color—and increasingly, people are doing the same but with lighting. Colored LED (light emitting diode) fixtures are starting to be incorporated into home theaters, living rooms, bedrooms and outdoor areas—just about any place that could use more ambiance. LED bulbs have been around for years, but utilized mostly in restaurants, retail establishments and other commercial venues. Like other technologies, they’ve trickled down into residential, and are having a huge impact on room design. People are thinking in color when adding lighting to a room, and manufacturers are responding by offering systems that enable colored LEDs to brighten and dim, change hues automatically, and become a part of the same lighting scenes as your ordinary incandescent lights.
Screen Innovation’s Black Diamond Zero Edge screen with LED lighting.
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