How to Create the Ultimate Smart Home Theater Ecosystem
About the author: Jennifer Karami is a writer at Redfin, a modern real estate brokerage that uses technology to help people buy and sell homes. With a 1% listing fee and full-service agents, Redfin is redefining real estate in the consumer's favor.
Imagine walking into your living room, bowl of popcorn in hand, and telling Alexa to “dim the lights, turn up the sound, and play ESPN.” Just a decade ago this possibility was reserved only for superheroes and billionaires, but today, smart home technology makes it not only possible, but practical and affordable to upgrade your home’s IQ.
A smart home device uses WiFi to connect with other devices around the household. Together with smart hubs and virtual assistants, these devices make up a smart home ecosystem, in which you can automate a series of actions using voice commands.
The living room is an ideal space to start building a home theater, since most modern TVs, stereos, and entertainment devices are already WiFi-enabled. Whether you have a vision of hosting game days with friends, bonding over family movie nights, or simply enjoying Netflix from the comfort of your home, smart tech will take your home theater system to a new level. We’ll cover the main options for smart hubs, the latest audio/visual devices on the market, and explain how to sync them to work together seamlessly.
Choosing a smart home hub
Before buying all the shiny new devices for your home theater, you’ll want to choose a smart home hub. This is the AI-powered helper that will talk to you and allow you to control all your devices from one place. Hubs typically have three components: the virtual assistant (AI), the speaker (hardware), and the phone app. The biggest players in the market are Amazon, Google, Apple, and Samsung. Depending on your lifestyle, there are pros and cons to each option.
Amazon Alexa ecosystem
Speaker: Amazon Echo
App: Amazon Alexa for iOS, Android, and Google Play
- Alexa was the first smart home assistant to arrive on the scene, so it comes with industry leading technology at a reasonable price point
- Open source development means it won’t be hard to find options that work with Alexa - it currently pairs with over 7,000 third party devices
- The Amazon Echo speaker is not very robust - consider upgrading to the Echo Plus if you intend to use it to play music or watch TV
Assistant: Google Assistant
Speaker: Google Home
App: Google Assistant for iOS, Android, and Google Play
- Google Assistant is built into Android phones, so Android users will experience a seamless integration
- Google’s sophisticated AI can answer almost any question because it is enabled by the Google search engine
App: Home for iOS
- Apple’s stringent privacy standards mean the Apple HomeKit is extra-secure with your data
- Seamless integration for Apple enthusiasts
- Apple developer technology is closed source - meaning HomeKit won’t work with most third party apps
Assistant: Alexa or Google Assistant
Speaker: Samsung SmartThings
- The SmartThings Hub is broadly compatible with all kinds of sensors, devices, and smart home products. The virtual assistant is compatible with Google or Alexa, making it awesome for managing all your devices in one place.
- SmartThings only works from a smartphone app and is not compatible with Mac or PC
Smart devices for home theater
Once you’ve chosen your hub, you’ll have a better idea of what options are compatible to start building your home theater. The most important thing is to look at the product description of the device you intend to use and make sure it is compatible with your hub. For example, to ensure a device works with Alexa, be sure to look for “Works with Alexa” in the product description.
You can hardly have a theater without a TV. A smart TV allows you to directly stream programs from the internet, and learns your viewing patterns to suggest shows and movies to watch next. Roku TV is the industry standard, but don’t worry if you’re in love with your current HD flat screen. Most TVs built in the last decade have the capacity to become “smart” with the addition of HDMI devices like Roku player or Apple TV. These gadgets connect to WiFi allow you to stream web-based content like Netflix, Hulu, etc.
For an authentic theater feel, you can add a smart projector to your home theater ensemble. Unlike their vintage predecessors, smart projectors come with full HD capability and support streaming, mirroring, and casting from your laptop or mobile device, so you can instantly watch movies and TV.
These days, full surround sound can be achieved in less space than ever, as speakers and subwoofers become more streamlined and compact. For a truly immersive home theater experience, consider the Sonos Soundbar, a smartphone-controlled speaker that sits right under your TV. You can also incorporate subwoofers for pure, deep sound, even at low frequency. Quality of sound can make all the difference between a good movie and a great one.
In terms of lighting, you’ll likely want the option to dim, brighten, and turn off the lights in your theater room. The Phillips Hue is a bulb that you control from an app on your phone.You can adjust the brightness settings by sliding your finger, as well as change the color. To fully blackout the room, convert your existing shades to smart shades or use motorized window treatments. These shades allow you to adjust amount of daylight in your space to increase comfort, save energy, and protect interiors from UV rays.
How to get them all to work together
Instructions for syncing smart devices vary depending on the hub and the device, however, most installations are fairly similar. To set them up at home:
- Make sure the devices are connected to the same WiFi network.
- Open your Alexa/Google/HomeKit/SmartThings app.
- Click the plus sign or “add device” to add a new accessory. You can also use your voice to ask Alexa to discover new devices
- Select the device you want to pair.
- Once the devices have paired, you can play around in the app to adjust the particular settings, or try giving Alexa a command to see how the new gadget works.
The Alexa Routines feature (called Rooms/Automation/Automations in HomeKit, Google, and SmartThings respectively) is your best friend to get all your devices working together seamlessly. It allows you to create a flow of actions in each room based on your commands. For instance, you can create a group called “Home theater,” that closes the blinds, dims the lights, and turns on the TV simultaneously. These automations make it possible to walk into a room with a bowl of popcorn, give a command, and have Alexa handle the rest.
No matter which type of home automation ecosystem you choose, it is important to assess your current connectivity and network speed. Every new device will put an additional strain on your wireless network, and you will need to make sure you have the bandwidth to support everything you plan to purchase.
If this seems like a lot of technological information all at once, don’t worry. Setting up a home theater system has long been the domain of professional audio and visual technicians, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. If your wires are getting crossed, Sound and theater professionals can help. Our areas of expertise include:
- Hidden speakers and video displays
- Flush-mount controls
Our local professionals cater to homes and offices in Williamsville, NY; Buffalo, NY; Amherst, NY and surrounding areas. Whether or not you’re a customer, we’re always happy to answer questions - drop us a line.