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With less than two weeks until Christmas, it’s time to get your gift shopping finished.
Internet-connected entertainment products are vying to take over our homes, with a vast range of offerings from new and established names alike. Here are some ideas for products you can give a special person in your life to get them started on the road to a more connected home entertainment experience.
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The PLAY:1 is an entry-level introduction to Sonos’ range of highly acclaimed, Internet-connected speakers. Connect it to your home network and you’ll be able to control the audio it plays from your smartphone, replacing the home hi-fi systems of old with a world of music, streamed from the Internet. Read our full review for more on the PLAY:1. $199
Samsung 2.1 Channel Soundbar System with Wireless Subwoofer
Those speakers built into your TV don’t exactly pack a punch. If you’ve been thinking of upgrading your TV audio experience but have been put off by the idea of trailing wires all around the room to multiple speakers, this solution from Samsung is just the ticket. The stereo soundbar is accompanied by a wireless subwoofer that you can place anywhere in the room. The soundbar even connects wirelessly to compatible Samsung TVs and acts as a Bluetooth audio device, meaning that you can play music from your computer or smartphone through it. $249.99
Sony PlayStation Vita
Many had written the Vita handheld gaming device off as a failure for Sony. However, the PlayStation 4’s Remote Play feature has given it a new lease of life as a way of playing PS4 games when the TV is in use by other people who don’t want to watch you rack up high scores and trophies all night. You’ll get best results by using the Vita on the same WiFi network as your PlayStation 4 – the latency over longer distances makes it unusable – but it’s a great option for any gamer in a busy household and no dedicated TV with which to get their game on. $199
At first glance, it might not seem like the $25-$35 Raspberry Pi has much to do with home entertainment but this flexible mini-computer can do all sorts of interesting things, including running media center software XBMC. True hobbyists will find everything they need on the XBMC wiki and you can even buy a bundle that contains everything you need to turn a Raspberry Pi into perhaps the smallest media center computer you’ll ever own. Raspberry Pi Model B: $35, XBMC kit an extra $45
Samsung Smart Media Player
There are plenty of ways of making your TV ‘smart’, and one of the latest is this box from Samsung. In addition to supporting a whole heap of online video services like Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, VUDU and YouTube, it offers a CableCARD slot that allows it to combine as a set-top box for cable TV too. $149
WD TV Live
Another media box to plug into your TV, this option from Western Digital focuses on flexibility, letting you play a wide variety of file formats, stream media from USB devices and any computer on your home network, stream from the likes of Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus and Spotify. You can control it all via an accompanying smartphone app for iOS and Android. $89.99
Roku has established a name for itself as a leader in the Internet-connected media box space. The Roku 1 is a low-cost way to get into 1080p streaming and supports over 1,000 ‘channels’ of content. This means that in addition to the usual likes of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus, you get HBO Go, TED, NASA, PBS and so many more that you’ll probably never get around to watching them all. $59.99
Apple still hasn’t officially progressed its set-top box beyond ‘hobby’ status, and compared to a Roku the number of content channels available here is small. Still, if you own an Apple device it’s a near-essential device for one reason: AirPlay. Being able to play content from your iOS or OS X device on your TV is such a straightforward and painless experience and it works with many third-party apps as well as Apple’s own. Access to your iTunes library of music and videos is key to the appeal here, too. $99.99
Bonus pick: Google Chromecast
The Chromecast hasn’t quite fulfilled the promise of its launch earlier this year, as the number of Google-approved apps has been small to date. Still, this low-cost device for streaming all sorts of media is starting to become a compelling choice as more support comes online. This week, third-party support was boosted significantly, and Google Play Music and Movies streaming from the Web was added. $35