It’s your command center. Your sanctuary. Your high-tech entertainment pavilion serving audiophile-caliber music, 3D HDTV, and sundry other digital treats. It’s your living room, and itdemands the most maximum gear. In this article, we included only products that are currently for sale, and we personally tested every single piece of gear, picking only those products we could personally endorse. Indeed, this is no superficial gadget catalog that you’d find in your junk mail, and we’re not one of those websites that profiles something just because it looks cool. Our homes are becoming fully technologized, and we aim to reveal the very best of today’s domestic tech revolution.
Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT25 Plasma 3D HDTV
Should your next HDTV be LCD or plasma? Partisans in both camps will argue their choice is superior, but few dispute that when it comes to 3D, Panasonic’s 50-inch Viera TC-P50VT25 plasma display takes the prize. Whether you’re playing a 3D action game or watching Avatar on Blu-ray 3D, Panasonic’s flagship TV delivers a mind-blowing experience. The Viera also delivers a fabulous 2D experience, so you won’t regret buying it even if 3D becomes a forgotten historical footnote. You’ll get excellent color saturation, sublime definition in highlights and shadows, and superior black-level performance in both 2D and 3D. (Reviewed here)
The TV can also decode 1080p content that’s been encoded at 24 frames per second, eliminating 3:2 pulldown judder (visual artifacts that can make Hollywood movies and other 24fps content look jerky after being converted to the 60fps standard that most TV use). We auditioned a number of HDTVs for this article, and the Viera won hands-down. $1,900, www.panasonic.com
Kodak Pulse Digital Frame
If your hipster friends think digital picture frames are as cool as Thomas Kinkade prints, then they haven’t seen the Kodak Pulse. Old-school models had cheesy wooden frames and relied on USB keys for image transfer, but the Pulse has contemporary aesthetics and is plenty high-tech with a 10-inch, LED-backlit, touch-screen display and built-in Wi-Fi. The frame can download photo albums stored on Facebook accounts, and you can email images to the frame from a PC or smartphone. You can also upload images via a USB port or memory card reader. $200,www.kodak.com
Bomba Alarm Clock
Fact: Hardcore tech enthusiasts are suckers for exposed gears. Fact: Hardcore tech enthusiasts love analog notation. Fact: Hardcore tech enthusiasts simply can’t get enough Cold War–era, split-flap digital displays. The Bomba Alarm Clock, the design of a mysterious craftsman named Wil van den Bos, mashes together all these elements to create a stunning timepiece for the center of your digital den. Two dimmable blue LEDs light up for night-time viewing. And did we mention the gears are integral to operation, and never stop moving? $72, www.littleclockshop.com
Logitech Harmony 1100 Remote Control
Someday, we’ll have implants in our brains that will let us control our entertainment systems with our thoughts. In the meantime, we’ll use a universal remote like Logitech’s Harmony 1100. Plug the remote into your PC, then enter the make and model of all your equipment (TV, Blu-ray player, A/V receiver, etc.). Logitech’s software will automatically download exactly the right remote codes. An easy-to-use wizard then steps you through the process of creating macros for specific activities. Want to watch a Blu-ray movie? Press one button on the 3.5-inch color touch screen to turn on all your gear, set everything to the correct inputs and outputs, and start the show. It’s our highest-rated universal remote by far. $400, www.logitech.com
Davis Instruments Vantage Vue Wireless Weather Station
We don’t care if buying a weather center is a sign of old age. The Vantage Vue brings serious meteorological equipment into the home. We’ve tested various weather stations in the sub-$500 price range, and can tell you that this is the one to beat. Once you’re familiar with the intense interface, the Vantage Vue quickly provides a vast number of data points for rain, wind, barometric pressure, and more. We especially like the rapid frequency of its sensor updates, and how the console displays a running feed of interesting data, from daily highs and lows to alerts for meteor showers. The system’s outdoor weather sensors (not shown here) have a confidence-inspiring build quality, and are relatively compact. The console itself communicates with your sensors wirelessly, and runs on either batteries or AC. $395, www.vantagevue.com
Are you using a home theater PC instead of Blu-ray player? Then you’ll need a living room–appropriate alternative to that bulky wireless mouse and keyboard combo. The GlideTV Navigator fits in the palm of your hand and features an integrated touchpad for cursor control. There are dedicated buttons for your media player software, and a graphical user interface that provides one-click access to the most popular entertainment-streaming websites (e.g., Netflix and Pandora). GlideTV’s What’s On program guide lets you browse all the video content available on the Internet, and there’s an excellent on-screen keyboard too. $49, www.glidetv.com
Bowers & Wilkins CM-Series Speakers
We’ve listened to a lot of great speakers over the years, but nothing has ever left us as slack-jawed as the surround-sound system we built around B&W’s new CM-series speakers and spherical PV1 Pressure Vessel subwoofer. We put a pair of CM8 floor-standing speakers and a CM Centre up front, and assigned surround-sound duties to the company’s CM1 bookshelf speakers.
All five satellite speakers use aluminum dome tweeters and produce sensational highs that reveal subtle sound elements (in both music and movies) that we haven’t noticed in other speakers. The three-way floor-standing CM8s are relatively compact, so they won’t look out of place on either side of your flat-screen TV, but they produce a much bigger sound stage than you might expect. The CM1s produce a remarkable amount of bass for their size, rendering them far from the second-class status to which most surround channels are relegated. And the whole system looks as beautiful as it sounds. $5,450 (for our featured config), www.bowers-wilkins.com
Salamander Designs Synergy A/V Cabinet
This home theater enclosure is the next best thing to hiring a custom cabinetmaker. The magic lies in its modular, user-defined design: You start with a base unit and then add other components—sides, doors, drawers, pull-out trays, and more—to fit your specific needs. You’ll need to assemble the furniture yourself, but Salamander provides high-quality hardware and all the tools you’ll need.
We started with a single 41-inch-tall Synergy base in a cherry finish, added hardwood sides, a frosted-glass door, and heavy-duty casters. We also installed the optional extended back that features active cooling. This not only provides an additional 3.5 inches of space inside the rear of the cabinet, but also includes a pair of thermostatically controlled cooling fans that evacuate warm air at a rate of 20 cubic feet per minute. It’s simply the best commercially produced A/V cabinet we’ve seen. $1,205, www.salamanderdesigns.com
Want to see the rest of the 14 Must-Sees for the Ultimate Geek Living Room? Check out Part Two over on Maximum PC.
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