Every holiday season the iMore and Mobile Nations team like to share all the Apple and assorted tech we've loved most throughout the year. My passion for the last couple of years has been home theater, so instead of retreading what my colleagues have already posted so well, I'm going to focus on that. So here they are, my favorite home theater tech of the year, and the perfect gift for any movie buff, Apple or otherwise!
The centerpiece of any home theater system is the device you use to play all of your media. It’s imperative to make certain you have a powerful, preferably lower cost, quiet device with easy to implement audio/video connectivity. Apple's Mac mini fits the bill nicely. It may not have been updated to Haswell yet, but even the current Mac mini can not only play local content like a dream, but web and networked files as well. (My player of choice is XBMC - details below!)
Although some redundancy is at hand with getting an Apple TV if you already have a Mac mini, the ease of use and setup of the Apple TV, along with the $99 price tag, is worth it for the integrated iTunes streaming and Netflix alone. iTunes movies and TV shows play is beautiful 1080p HD, and Netflix in its Super HD 1080p service. Add to this the ability to Airplay your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, and you have all your media bases covered.
Although you can get a stand alone Blu-ray player for considerably less, with the old school Sony PS3 or the brand new - but mostly still sold out - Sony PS4, you get a ROCKIN’ Blu-ray player and a gaming machine. It offers easy to setup HDMI connectivity to play HDCP protected media, and if you don't already have an Apple TV, it also offers streaming services like Netflix as well.
I’ve had a few brands of projectors over the years and this is one of the items that you don't want the cheapest option possible. I’ve liked Viewsonic over the years as they offer a good mid-range price point and feature set. Regardless of what you choose, make certain that the native resolution of your projector is at least 1080p. Too many people get confused as to what resolutions a projector can display (for example it can show a 1080p image but at a lower real resolution) versus the native resolution (the actual number of lines the projector is actually displaying).
I like manual screens because of the greater bang for the buck they offer when it comes to quality vs. size. I also like to have things that minimize moving parts so I can minimize having to repair them. On top of that, the money I save here allows me to spend more on other components.
I have the VSX-51, but the 53 is the current model. If you consider yourself an audiophile or just simply a lover of surround sound then you will want to be able to not only get a good receiver, but one that can connect all of the media playing goodies to your projector as simply as possible. There are certainly cheaper 5.1 systems around and not only that, not many media sources even offer 7.1 surround sound. However, I like to be future proofed and for the sources that do have it, it is the bomb. This Pioneer receiver, can play studio quality sounding at 192khz out to 8 speakers including your sub-woofer. It's auto setup wizard configures the level of each speaker to make sure you getting the best possible audio experience. It comes with multiple HDMI inputs so that all of your hardware can be controlled and configured in one place.
All of the hardware above comes with all you need to start enjoying your various sources of media... with the exception of Mac mini. Sure, you can load things like Netflix.com in the browser, or open iTunes.app, but since Apple abandoned Front Row, there's no built-in media solution. That's where XBMC comes in. XBMC is a free and open source media player that can do a myriad of things. It's self-contained which means that all of the required video and audio codecs are built in to the software, so you needn’t kill yourself trying to find and download any codecs to play various media files. Couple it with an Apple Remote, and you have an amazing home theater front end.
I am a traditionalist at heart and I’d like to be able to seat as many guests as possible in my home theater without using a standard couch or other conventional seating. This is why I went with the Dolphin Pearl Home Theater seat from Midwest Theater Seating. I bought a row of four seats that I have on a raised stadium-like platform that give that authentic movie theater feel. Although not as confortable as a La-Z-Boy, these seats are the same ones used in IMAX theaters throughout the country and can’t be beaten for the comfort/price ratio.
Nothing completes the home theater experience like the right snacks, and that includes the junk food and all the things that make it great!
That's some of my favorite tech - and tech-supporting - stuff from the last year. I'd love to know what you love, however, so let me know!
Looking for more great gift ideas for the geeks - and non-geeks - in your life? Check out the rest of our 2013 holiday guides!