Bigger, slimmer & way smarter

Welcome to the brave new world of home theater


Published: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 3:47 p.m.

There is a paradigm shift brewing in your living room and it stretches from The Swamp to the local movie theaters and beyond. The world is streaming inside our homes in a way that is unprecedented. Why are we seeing more empty seats at sporting events? Because it looks better and is more comfortable in our own high-definition living rooms. Why are fewer people making the pilgrimage to the closest multiplex cinema? Because the televisions in our homes are looking more and more like an iMax theater every day.

The temptation to invest in a great television has never been stronger, whether you're a gadget-addict who demands the latest and greatest, or a value conscious-consumer who recognizes that the best use of today's entertainment dollar means spending all that hot dog, popcorn and ticket money on a breakthrough viewing device.

Today you can purchase a quality set with many of the top features for well under $1,000. For example, I recently picked up a 48-inch Hitachi 1080p LED SmartTV for the bedroom with 3D and an ultra-thin frame for $638. It's stunning all the way around. Looking for the iMax experience in your living room? You can expect to pay at least $2,000 to $3,000, which is about what it costs to take the family to a movie these days.

Here is a primer to just a few of the features to consider.

4K resolution: Remember that phrase 1080p? This was the benchmark for high-definition goodness. Until now. So what is the result of practically quadrupling that 1080p number of pixels? Hard to say, because no device exists that can properly give reference except a 4K television. Sounds pretty revolutionary to me. Nonetheless, manufacturers are banking that you will not only love it but will gladly open up your wallet to get one.

Smart technology: Remember how your life changed with apps? Can you imagine going back to a stock smartphone? Probably not. The same will probably be said for “dumb” televisions some day. The ability to download apps like Netflix or Hulu+ has already been

achieved on most Blu-Ray players and gaming consoles, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. Apps such as Youtube, Flikr, Amazon Instant Video and even Facebook will truly show the evolution of your television from mere coaxial cable device to a WIFI-powered computer on the wall. The ability to mirror your mobile device and play a gigantic Angry Birds on the big screen? Priceless.

Screen size: Have you checked out the televisions at in-store retailers like Best Buy or hhGregg lately? They must be feeding them the same steroids that some of our kids are getting these days because they are huge. The recent benchmark was about 55-inches for a large television, but now we are seeing mainstream televisions in the 70- to 80-inch range, and they are impressive. Reminded me of getting really bad tickets for a sporting event and watching the plays solely on the Jumbotron. Well, the Jumbotron now can be installed directly in your living room.

3D: Is it a novelty? Absolutely. Still, we are a society that loves our gimmicks, and this happens to be one that works rather well. It was not long ago that you had to throw down big bucks on a premium set to get 3D functionality. No, that was not worth the money. Today, you have to go out of your way to find a device without 3D. As long as you're prepared to spend $30 and up for Blu-rays, you should be happy because you're not going to find them available on Netflix or Redbox anytime soon.

LED screens: While LED technology is not new, it has become much more widespread. The most useful function besides vibrant and rich colors is that they slurp down far less energy, which translates into noticeably smaller electricity bills. If you're trying to save a few bucks on an LCD or plasma screen, don't bother because you'll pay much more operating it every month.

Form factors: Modern devices have gotten so razor thin that I would worry about cutting myself just reaching for the power button. Seriously, to me this is one of the greatest areas of innovation. I have been to plenty of homes where owners went out of their way to hide their hideously fat big-screen televisions. Now they are down to less than an inch thick and they look awesome on the wall.

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