There is so much great tech for entertaining these days that it can almost get overwhelming. If you're not careful, your living room table can become overrun with remotes for your TV, cable box, surround sound system and streaming boxes. Stop the madness!
It's time to simplify that setup by incorporating the latest technology to either replace those remotes with voice control, or scale everything down to one remote or device.
Chromecast and Google Home
Google offers one of the best ways to simplify your living room using a combination of Chromecast and Google Home smart speakers. Chromecast Ultra ($59) is an essential TV accessory — it's small and plugs into the HDMI port of any TV, and is fairly future-proof with support for 4K Ultra HD and HDR. With it, you're able to use your phone to cast content from Netflix, Youtube, and content from a bunch of other great apps.
But that's just the beginning. If you pair your Chromecast with a Google Home ($99) or Google Home Mini ($29) you not only get a pretty decent smart speaker powered by Google Assistant, but can also control your Chromecast-enabled devices with just your voice!
It's a system that can extend well beyond the living room, too. If you have a Chromecast plugged into every TV in your home along with a few Google Home speakers strategically placed throughout your house you're able to cast and streamnear endless entertainment options using just your voice.
Google has been slowly building out its Google Home speakers line up. Along with the Google Home and Home Mini, there's the beefy Google Home Max which looks to compete with Sonos as a top-end wireless speaker for room-filling sound.
Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV
We couldn't mention Google Home and Chromecast without also talking about the Alexa-powered equivalent. Amazon had a big year in 2018, announcing a ton of cool products that are available now, as well as previewing some of the future ways you might be able to incorporate Alexa into your daily routines. If you're feeling pretty comfortable using Alexa over Google Assistant, it's time to go all-in in the living room.
Amazon continued to revamped its Echo speaker line up, offering a stylish second-generation version of the Amazon Echo Plus ($150) which offers the same great sound and built-in smart home hub we loved about the first Echo Plus but this time with a fabric finish and a shorter design. Amazon also unveiled its first auxillary speaker, the Echo Sub ($129), that pairs to one or more Echo or Echo Plus speakers to deliver down-firing bass via a 6-inch subwoofer. Finally, Amazon also unveiled the Amazon Fire TV Cube ($70), but we'd still recommend you get the Amazon Fire TV 4K ($35) because it's just as functional as the Cube but half the price.
Since both the Amazon Fire TV and Echo speakers are all controlled by the Alexa app on your phone, that allows you to control your Fire TV by talking to Alexa through your Echo speakers. If your TV includes HDMI CEC, you'll be able to walk into the room, ask Alexa to "Watch Fire TV", and your TV and Fire TV will both turn on instantaneously. From there, you can use the remote to control things or use the built-in microphone to keep using voice controls.
The Echo speakers also work well for music and podcasts and can be linked together as rooms from within the Alexa app to fill your whole house with music — perfect for entertaining and parties.
Ok, so maybe you already have a pretty epic entertainment center setup in your living room and you don't really need much else except for one remote to control it all. The Logitech Harmony Companion All-in-One ($95) is the remote control of your dreams. Logitech says it's compatible with an incredible 270,000 different devices that go well beyond entertainment and include home automation devices like smart lights, locks, and thermostats.
It also works with Alexa and Google Assistant, so it won't matter if you've got one or the other in your home the remote will work just fine with either. This remote is what happens when smartphone technology mixes with a remote control, but if you want an even more advanced remote control you should consider the Logitech Harmony Elite ($230) which is pictured above with it's charming charging dock and includes a built-in touchscreen that lets you program countless activities or scenes by connecting your existing smart home tech to the included Harmony Hub. It's a bit pricy for a remote control, but it might be the last remote you ever buy and the only one you'll ever need to control practically every smart product in your home.
NVIDIA Shield TV
The NVIDIA Shield is the device that anchors my home entertainment system, and it's probably the piece of tech that I use most beyond my smartphone. It's a shame that Android TV isn't a more popular platform because NVIDIA is really the only company out there that's pushing it to the max.
NVIDIA did the opposite of announcing new products in 2018 as they announced they would stop producing the Pro version of the Shield TV, but they're continuing to promote the 16GB NVIDIA Shield TV ($149) moving forward which supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR playback and now comes with Google Assistant built right into the operating system. Each Shield comes with a remote control with a built-in microphone and there are bundles that include a SmartThings Link hub or a gaming controller depending on where your interests lie. NVIDIA and Google offer great app support for all your favorite streaming services, and there's even an accessory from Tablo Tuner that lets you attach a digital antenna to the Shield to watch live television for free, or have your Shield act as your personal DVR for a monthly subscription.
The NVIDIA Shield is basically a cord cutter's dream, and if you're considering replacing your cable TV package with a streaming box in 2019, you should still consider the NVIDIA Shield. Oh, it also handles video games pretty well, and can also let you stream PC games to your living room. It's the most versatile streaming box you can buy for just $149.
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