Over the last six months, we've had a major remodelling project continuing at home – a full height extension to add a new master bedroom upstairs and a play room downstairs for the kids. With all of the building work taking place, I took the opportunity to review and subsequently upgrade a lot of the technology in the house. Having spent some time planning the upgrades, and now that the project is complete, it's interesting to look back to see some of the major changes I've made on the technology front.
Whether these reflect major global tech trends, I'm not sure, but there are a number of shifts I've made this year that may help you think about the kit you want in your home in 2013.
The Big Trends
- Windows for Work, Xbox for Play
- Connected TVs Solve Streaming Once and For All
- With Mobile, Forget the OS & Lock in the Apps
- Wire Up When and Where You Can
Windows for Work, Xbox for Play
Over the past few years, Microsoft has been steadily losing the technology battle for control of the Walsh household. With Windows 8, they had the opportunity to deliver a killer blow to the new pretenders – Apple, Google, Samsung, Sony, LG et al.
They blew it.
Windows 8 hammered another nail in Microsoft's coffin – in a world where technology is increasingly becoming simpler to manage, easier to use, part of the furniture and the fabric of life, Microsoft managed to deliver a platform that is none of these things. In fact, it rails against simplicity and ease with two conflicting user interface models that continually crash against each other, and indeed the user. It's painful. It lacks grace. It's not for me and not for my family.
Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint are the tools I use everyday for work and I'll continue to do so for some time yet – on a Windows PC from time to time, but mostly on a Mac. But it certainly won't be on a Windows 8 PC – I simply can't afford the productivity drop.
With Xbox 360, Microsoft still owns the world's best gaming platform, and I've kept one in the lounge and dropped another in the Play Room for the kids when they're a little older. But for me and my household, Xbox 360 isn't the Entertainment hub that Microsoft want it to be – I'll outline why shortly.
So, farewell Windows – the once pervasive platform (in my home, anyway) has now been denigrated to the Office.
Connected TVs Solve Streaming Once and For All
Digital media receivers? HTPCs? I tried them all. In 2004 I had a massive Dell desktop connected to the TV running Windows Media Center pushing out music, videos, photos, live and recorded TV. That platform stayed around for years, delivered by increasingly smaller, yet more powerful hardware. Over the last couple of years, HTPCs were replaced by media receivers – notably hacked Apple TVs which did the job neatly in a sub £100 package that was barely visible in the TV cabinet. Now, they're gone too.
Why? Connected TVs with Ethernet ports simply remove the need for digital media receivers. I've replaced the old Philips flat-screen TVs around the home with Samsung Smart TVs and they're very, very good indeed. The onboard AllShare media streaming app plays pretty much anything you want it to from your home server or NAS, and if you want a groovier media experience, Plex is available for download from Samsung's App Store via the TV. Add apps for Spotify, YouTube, LoveFilm, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Twitter, Skype and a whole load more and there's little else needed for a great night in.
Go for one of Samsung's higher end models, and you'll be able to replace the TVs processor and features each year with a hardware kit. Did I mention the wafer-thin screen and awesome picture?
Whilst much of our video content is streamed to the TV, Blu-ray is still an awesome option for movies – high definition images and DTS surround sound is tough to beat. To keep things neat, I went again with Samsung who have a range of connected Blu-ray players packing TV tuners and hard drive recorders – if you're holding fire before upgrading to a connected TV, purchasing a cheaper connected Blu-ray player gives you all of the network functionality you need without breaking the bank.
If you're yet to invest in a decent AV receiver and speakers to manage your audio then forget what the audiophiles say – you don't have to break the bank to get a great experience. Marantz's NR-series AV receivers do a cracking job of processing your audio whilst maintaining a small (for an AV receiver!) footprint, whilst Boston Acoustics' Soundware XS Home Theatre speakers have been a complete revelation – I'm no audio geek, but these tiny speakers deliver fabulous sound (to these ears anyway) and top the charts on WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor).
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