The popularity of smart home technology is increasing at an exponential rate. STACK takes a look at how you can incorporate the smart home into your movie entertainment space.
Not just another media buzz word or gimmick, smart home technology is both convenient and efficient, and Australians are adopting it at a phenomenal rate. The tech is being used for security cameras, lighting, entertainment, even garden irrigation, but it’s the entertainment space we’re going to discuss here. If you’re a film buff, it doesn’t take much to enhance the entertainment experience within your own four walls.
For the budding cinephile, setting up a smart home movie system has never been easier, and can also be cost effective. If you’ve made a hardware purchase recently, chances are you’re halfway there already.
IN THE MOOD
LED lighting in the entertainment space is an addition you really don’t know you need until you install it – and then you can’t do without it. So, what is smart lighting? In a nutshell, lights that can be controlled wirelessly via a hub or smartphone. These range from regular household bulbs to lighting specifically designed to enhance your media experience, and it’s the latter we’re going to illuminate.
The Philips Hue range is ideal for this purpose. These lights offer 16 million different colour options, allowing for complete customisation to suit personal tastes and needs. An ideal starter kit here would be the Hue LED colour Lightstrip (you can add strips ad hoc to increase length), two Hue Play smart light bars, and two Hue Go portable lights.
Choosing where to place your lights is trial and error, as every space is different. The best result for our set up included attaching a Lightstrip (which comes with adhesive backing) to the rear of the TV, and placing the two light bars fixed down low to either side of the TV cabinet. The two portable Hue Gos were sited on either side of the couch to project some rear lighting.
Don’t be deterred by the set up process. The beauty of modern technology is that manufacturers make connecting new hardware simple – even the most incorrigible Luddite can make sense of it.
Connection is made via the Hue Bridge – a small box that can either be bought separately or as part of a starter pack – that plugs directly into your modem. The Bridge is the brain that allows all of the lights to be connected and operated via the Hue app. Up to 50 lights can be added to each bridge – plenty of room for expansion.
Lights are established via the Hue app through easy step-by-step directions. Depending on where your lights are positioned, they can then be zoned to the living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc. By setting up individual actions – or scenes, as it’s known in smart home parlance – the lights can be triggered using sensor, voice or manual operation. Colours are changed via the app and the only restriction is your creativity.
Where Hue excels for lovers of film and television is with its Entertainment Mode. Let’s say you’ve just picked up the latest Game of Thrones box set at JB and you’re all set for a night of unadulterated binging. To enhance the sound and image delivered by a quality home cinema set up, it’s possible to set smart lighting to synchronise with the onscreen action, taking the viewing experience to a whole new level. The intensity of the lighting sequences can also be adjusted – you certainly don’t want your loungeroom pulsing like Studio 54 if you’re watching Roma.
A VIEW TO A THRILL
Technology changes at a dizzying pace and this applies to televisions, too. You can’t build your ideal smart home entertainment space with outdated hardware, so that chunky ten-year-old plasma screen you’ve been telling everyone ‘still works a treat’ isn’t going to cut the mustard here. We went straight to the TV guru at JB to recommend the best TV for the smart home theatre experience, and the response was the Sony X9500G 75” 4K Ultra Smart HD.
Aesthetically, it’s a good-looking, minimalistic set where the feet stand doubles as a handy cord conduit. A faster in-built UI enables speedy app navigation and an easy, customisable menu for fine-tuning (although the standard settings out of the box are pretty good). On the rear are four HDMI 2.0 ports that enable 4K HDR at 60Hz. The 75 and 85-inch models feature Sony’s X-wide angle tech that improves viewing if seating is skewed off centre.
A semi-gloss screen effectively defuses reflection and it has in-built Chromecast, allowing the direct streaming of content from a mobile device. Using Android TV, it does come with an in-built Google Assistant, but if you have a smart hub at home, these sync to provide basic voice commands such as volume, powering on and mute, etc. Perfect for issuing commands from other parts of the house if the TV is too loud.
But what about the all-important picture quality? Well, you’re in good hands here. Vibrant colours, deep blacks, image processing and brightness are all strong, and the X-motion clarity feature minimises blur on screen. 4K content is where the showcase sits – throw in a disc and marvel at the presentation!
SETTING THE BAR
Now you’ve got the TV and lighting sorted, you’re going to want an audio system to match. The Samsung Q90R is our pick. This is a quality unit that delivers full, immersive sound that’s ideally suited to a larger room.
For your money you get a sleek soundbar that can be either sat on a cabinet or wall-mounted, two satellite speakers with forward and upward drivers, and a subwoofer; all finished in a sleek carbon-silver colour. The system offers genuine 7.1.4 channel set up, can be connected wirelessly via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and supports Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. There are a number of new features including Adaptive Sound, which thinks on the fly and targets areas in a film or TV show – like dialogue – that needs attenuating if you’re watching late at night and don’t want to wake up the household.
The performance is exceptional – you certainly get what you pay for here. The soundbar, subwoofer and wireless rear speakers deliver a powerful punch that will delight the ears of the movie enthusiast, no matter what’s playing on the screen.
HUB IS WHERE THE HEART IS
While your entertainment devices can be controlled via an app, once all your scenes are set in stone, using a voice-activated smart hub just makes life a lot easier. We centred on three smart display options for this write-up: the Google Nest Hub Max, the Amazon Echo, and the Lenovo Smart Clock.
Recently released, the Nest Hub Max features a 10-inch touchscreen, an excellent speaker, and a face-tracking camera. The camera can be set up to recognise different members of the family and display information relevant to them, such as personal messages, calendar appointments and meetings, and will follow and track a face with its pivoting camera to keep it in frame during video calls (made through Google Duo). There’s a switch on the back to disable the camera for those concerned with privacy issues.
The display is useful for streaming videos (Peppa Pig at breakfast to keep the house from melting down) and whatever you’re watching onscreen can be paused; great for cookery guides. It’s a good place to gallery photos, check the weather, and the local news when travelling. The Nest Cam can also be used as a motion-activated security camera.
Another smart display with a solid all round speaker to boot is the Amazon Echo Show. Like the Nest Hub Max, the Echo Show has a 10-inch touchscreen. It works alongside Apple, Microsoft and even Google, increasing the range of products that can be added at a later date. Syncing to your smart home products is easy, and for video calls where the popular app Skype is used, a digital shutter blocks the camera.
Finally, we take a look at the Lenovo Smart Clock – a device designed to keep you smart in the bedroom (although it doesn’t have a camera). You can stream music but you can’t stream video content. With inbuilt Google Assistant, the Lenovo Smart Clock will also give you control of your smart tech.
The Logitech Harmony Elite remote is the ultimate entertainment solution contained within one handy remote, so you can effectively throw out – if you haven’t already lost them – all the others lying around the house. Using a hub, the remote connects all of your entertainment devices using infrared, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. All of these devices are added via a smartphone app that connects all of your hardware to the one remote. Similarly, the Harmony Elite can control every smart device you have connected in the house.