If the kitchen is the beating heart of the home, the living room is surely the soul. Or at least the playground. And when it comes to home entertainment tech, we‚Äôve been thoroughly spoiled in 2018.
From streaming sticks to soundbars, this year has brought a heap of flashy new toys to enjoy from the comfort of our sofas. But when it came to choosing our Home Entertainment Tech of the Year, it could only be the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.
Don‚Äôt get us wrong ‚Äď like every other category of the Ambient Smart Home Awards it was a shortlist of the very finest, but Amazon managed to deliver something that genuinely surprised us: 4K streaming, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and a $50 asking price. If that‚Äôs not bang for buck, well, what the hell is?
See also: How to watch 4K on Xbox
Amazon‚Äôs been in this TV business for a while, and in that time Fire TV has flourished into a well-fed and well-oiled platform. Too much self-promotion? A little, but if it keeps the price down, we‚Äôll suck it up. The Fire TV Stick 4K took all that and lumped on support for the major formats for a price that puts some of its rivals to shame. Roku still has the edge in some features, but the Fire TV Stick 4K should give the company pause.
The icing on the cake was the new remote, which finally added volume controls. No, we‚Äôre not being facetious, it really does make the Fire TV experience much better when you don't have to cross the streams with multiple wands.
And there‚Äôs always Alexa, also living in the remote, should you prefer to call on it. For searching across all the different apps, Amazon's assistant is certainly helpful on Fire TV. Finally, a zippier processor and the general feeling that Amazon has future-proofed its streaming dongle ‚Äď and you have our favourite bit of home entertainment tech this year.
Our Highly Commended for this category went to the Sonos Beam soundbar, which has become something of a Team Ambient darling in 2018. Incidentally, it works pretty well with the Fire TV Stick thanks to built-in Alexa.
Again, Sonos impressed us on value foremost: the Beam impresses on quality (it's Sonos, what do you expect?) with a nice wide soundstage, and for a price that won't make you wince. It's easy to set up, looks great, and offers Alexa voice controls to boot. For anyone who'd previously found the prospect of investing in a soundbar for the living room daunting, the Sonos Beam was the answer to that problem.