Gift Guide: The best products for creating a killer home theater setup w/ Apple TV 4K

After being leapfrogged by other popular streaming set-top boxes, Apple this year officially released the Apple TV 4K. With support for 4K HDR, the new Apple TV is now the perfect device for the center of any home theater setup, especially for those who are deep in the Apple ecosystem.

Spigen TEKA RA200 Airpods Earhooks Cover

Buying for a tech enthusiast can be hard, but we’re hoping that this roundup of some of the best home theater gear can help give you some ideas. Even if that tech enthusiast already has the latest and greatest, there is almost always room for some improvement to a home theater setup.

TVs

Of course, to take advantage of the Apple TV 4K’s new resolution you’ll need a television that’s capable of the latest and greatest picture quality. A variety of options exist at different price points with 4K and Dolby Vision HDR. Here are some of our favorites.

On the entry-level side of the market, it’s easy to overlook what TCL has to offer. While TCL isn’t necessarily a household name when it comes to TVs (yet), its lineup of 4K HDR TVs is well-reviewed and offers some of the best 4K TVs you can buy on a budget with Dolby Vision HDR built right in.

Prices start at $699 for the 55-inch model. Rated 4/5 stars on Amazon. Note these have Roku features built-in, but you can still connect an Apple TV 4K via HDMI.

TCL 55C807 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Roku Smart LED TV – $700

TCL 65C807 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Roku Smart LED TV – $1,099

Another budget option is LG’s UJ7700 series, which likewise packs 4K support with Dolby Vision HDR. It’s available in 49-inch, 17-inch, 60-inch, and 65-inch screen sizes starting at $739. Check them out at the links below. Rated 4/5 stars on Amazon.

LG Electronics 55UJ7700 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV – $739

LG Electronics 60UJ7700 60-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV – $990

More budget picks:

  • Vizio P50-C1 50-inch LED 4K 2160p SmartCast (Refurb) – $600
  • Sony XBR43X800E 43-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV – $648
  • Samsung UN49MU6500 Curved 49-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV – $598

Moving upwards in the market, LG’s B7A OLED televisions are some of the best money can buy right now. You get the deep blacks and color consistency of OLED panels paired with 4K and Dolby Vision HDR support. These don’t come cheap, however, starting at $1,567 for the 55-inch model. Rated 4.5/5 stars on Amazon.

LG OLED 55B7A 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV – $1,597

LG OLED 65B7A 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV – $2,597

LG doesn’t stop there, however. There’s the C7 OLED line of televisions, which pack support for Dolby Atmos sound, a feature that’s coming to the Apple TV 4K at some point in the future. These models start at $1,697 and are rated 4.5/5 stars.

LG OLED 55C7P 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV – $1,697

LG OLED 65C7P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV – $2,697

Finally, for someone you really love, LG’s E7 and G7 OLED TVs are some of the top options. Both of these feature LG’s “picture on glass” design, making for an incredibly thin and gorgeous package. With these, the design of the TV itself is just as beautiful as the picture it displays. The E7 starts at $2,496, while the G7 Signature comes in at $4,997.

LG OLED 55E7P 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV – $2,497

LG Signature OLED 65G7P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV – $4,997

Audio

A good TV is nothing without a great audio setup. Many of the above TVs, especially at the lower-end of the market, include built-in speakers that often sound pretty tinny and hollow. Luckily, it’s easy to set up another speaker with either your TV or paired directly to the Apple TV.

One of the easiest ways to improve the audio for your TV is with a soundbar. Some audiophiles might slam soundbars for the lack of range they provide, but they’re a solid option for those looking to upgrade from the built-in speakers on their TV.

On the entry-level side of the market is Vizio’s SB3821 2.1 channel soundbar with wireless subwoofer. This combo comes in at $149 and is rated 4/5 stars from almost 2,500 reviewers. It doesn’t pack the full surround sound experience like some might want, but it gets the job done at a relatively affordable price point.

VIZIO SB3821-C6 38-Inch 2.1 Channel Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer – $150

For a little bit more, you can get the Vizio SB3651-E6 5.1 channel setup. Wirecutter touts that this setup is “almost as good as a real surround sound system,” and it comes in at a fraction of the cost. Get it today for $220 from Best Buy, where it’s rated 4.5/5 stars.

VIZIO – SmartCast 36-Inch 5.1-Channel Soundbar System – $220

If you’re willing to spend, it’s hard to ignore the Sonos take on surround sound. The company sells a 5.1 Home Theater System for $1,696 that packs a pair of Play:1 speakers, a Playbase, and a Sonos SUB. These all connect wirelessly a play very nicely with the Apple ecosystem.

Sonos 5.1 Home Theater Digital Music System (PLAYBASE, SUB, PLAY:1) – $1,696

You can also buy Sonos’ offerings individually and mix and match. One of our favorite products is the Sonos Playbase, which sits underneath your TV and provides killer sound with easy pairing to Apple TV. It runs $699 and you can read our full review right here.

Sonos PLAYBASE for Home Theater and Streaming Music – $699

In general, Sonos makes great sounding speakers that are some of the hottest gifts this holiday season, for home theater setups and other use. Another top pick is the Sonos One with Alexa built-in, which can be had for $199.

More Sonos:

  • Sonos One – $199
  • Sonos Play:3 – $249
  • Sonos Play:5 – $499
  • Sonos Playbar TV Soundbar – $699

For so-called “true surround sound,” one of your best bets is the Elac Debut system, which packs a pair of tower speakers, a center speaker, 2 bookshelf speakers, and a sub. It’ll cost you $1,419, but Wirecutter rates it as the best surround sound speaker system.

For the Apple TV Holdouts

Of course, we can’t forget what powers these TVs and speaker systems. If whoever you’re buying for this holiday season hasn’t yet taken the plunge, the Apple TV 4K itself makes a great holiday gift, starting at $179 for 32GB of internal storage.

There are alternatives to the Apple TV that are a bit more affordable, but they don’t play as nice with iOS as Apple TV. If you know someone who isn’t locked into the Apple ecosystem and you’re on a budget, here are some set-top box alternatives:

Apple TV Alternatives:

  • Roku Streaming Stick+ – $69
  • Roku Ultra – $89
  • Roku Premiere+ – $57

Streaming Services

If you’re buying for a tech enthusiast, it’s possible they already have the best TV, the best sound system, and an Apple TV 4K powering it all. For those people, one of the best bets is a gift card for their favorite subscription service. Whether it’s Netflix, Hulu, Apple Music, or something else, it’s hard to go wrong with a gift card to help offset those pesky monthly payments.

Stocking Stuffers

There’s no point in having a high-end home theater setup if it’s cluttered. Below are a few stocking stuffer ideas that will help the home theater geek in your life keep things nice and tidy, ensuring the best possible viewing experience:

  • Screen Mom Screen Cleaner Kit – $17
  • Velcro Cable Ties – $10
  • Bluelounge CableBox – $30

Wrap up

What are you planning to get the home theater enthusiast in your life this holiday season? Do you have any suggestions that aren’t on our list? Let us know down in the comments!

FDA is not cuckoo for Coco Loko, a chocolatey alternative to snorting cocaine

In July, US Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer held a press conference to denounce a chocolate-flavored energy powder meant for snorting, called Coco Loko. He dubbed it “cocaine on training wheels” and called on the Food and Drug Administration to investigate.

The agency did, it turns out. And though regulators didn’t come up with a description quite as catchy as Schumer’s, their assessment of Coco Loko was even more damning.

Regulators determined that the powder was an unapproved new drug and that its maker, Legal Lean, was unlawfully marketing it, according to a Tuesday announcement. Moreover, the agency also looked into another product by the company, Legal Lean Syrup. The agency found that it, too, was an unapproved drug. The syrup contained an undisclosed sedative, doxylamine, which is found in the over-the-counter sleep-aid Unisom.

In a warning letter dated December 11, the FDA requested that Legal Lean “immediately cease marketing violative drug products to US consumers.” Legal Lean has 15 business days after the receipt of the letter to respond.

Legal Lean did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment, but its retail store was no longer working on its website.

In its warning letter, the FDA explained that Coco Loko and Legal Lean Syrup constituted unapproved drugs because they are marketed as being used to “affect the structure or function of the mind.”

Coco Loco contains cacao powder as well as ingredients often found in energy drinks, including taurine, guarana, and ginkgo biloba. Legal Lean advertised Coco Loko as offering a “steady rush of euphoric energy,” plus positive feelings similar to ecstasy and morphine. The company markets it as a food and dietary supplement. But the FDA said that because the powder is intended to be snorted—thus entering the body through mucosal tissue in the nasal passage, not ingestion—it is neither a conventional food nor a supplement. The FDA also expressed concern that snorting could be dangerous, possibly triggering asthma attacks or spasms that could make breathing difficult.

Additionally, the agency said that Legal Lean’s marketing made it clear that Coco Loko is intended to be an alternative “to illicit street drugs,” a big no-no. Any such drug is in violation of federal regulations, the agency said in a previous policy guidance.

In a statement Tuesday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb condemned Legal Lean’s products.

“As a physician and a parent, I’m deeply troubled by the unlawful marketing of these potentially dangerous products, especially since they are so easily accessible by minors. Encouraging the use of snortable chocolate as an alternative to illegal street drugs is not acceptable–there are very real consequences to snorting any powder, not to mention the societal dangers of promoting drug abuse… At a time where drug addiction is threatening the fabric of American society, we must take action when we see efforts that may further fuel illicit drug abuse. We’ll continue to vigorously target bad actors that sell unapproved products, including products that contain undeclared drug ingredients.”

The FDA found similar problems with the marketing of Legal Lean Syrup, which also was caught containing a hidden sedative. The grape-flavored syrup based on herbal extracts is supposed to mimic a concoction developed in Houston, Texas, called Lean, which involves cough syrup (containing promethazine and codeine), Sprite soda, and Jolly Rancher candy. The result is also sometimes referred to as “purple drank.”

iPhone X offers tantalizing clues to Apple’s next iPhone

iphone-x

The iPhone X is billed as the smartphone of the future. 


César Salza / CNET

Apple bills the iPhone X as “the smartphone of the future.”

But we’re sitting here tinkering with the iPhone X now, and can’t help but to wonder what’s next.

Fortunately, the new features of the iPhone X — the TrueDepth camera, Face ID and even the new, bezel-less design — offer hints of where the iPhone may go next. This is what Apple does: introduce a series of features over several generations, like Apple Wallet and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, only to combine them into a new capability like Apple Pay years later.

“If the iPhone X is Apple’s foundation for the next 10 years, then what we see now will be the springboard for future iterations,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.

Thanks to the clues left in the last two generations of iPhones, we were prepared when Apple finally shed the physical home button on the iPhone X.

So what does the future of the iPhone have in store for us? We offer a few educated guesses — and our own personal hopes — for what we’ll see in the next generation of the iPhone.

Apple declined to comment. 

Bringing back the home button (virtually)

Wait, so we spent the last few years talking about getting rid of the home button, and now we want it back already? Just hear us out. 


Now Playing:
Watch this:

iPhone 8, 8 Plus or X: Which should you get?


3:42

The iPhone X boldly replaced the home button with a series of swipes and an emphasis on the larger side button.

The transition didn’t need to be that extreme. In fact, the iPhone X’s longer display is perfectly suited for a virtual home button — one that can change depending on the app or situation. Apple has already done a good job creating the illusion of physical buttons with its haptic feedback — those virtual buttons for the flashlight and camera on the lock screen are good examples.

iPhone X home button

Nic Henry/CNET

Bringing back a virtual home button may not seem to make sense when there’s already a totally new iPhone X interface, but mixed with pressure-sensitive and tactile feedback, it could be used to add ways to access things like folders, recently-used apps, or bring up a larger dock featured in the iPad Pro.

You can see Apple more aggressively use 3D Touch to create the illusion that you’re actually clicking down on a button, which, we have to admit, is more satisfying than a virtual tap. Why not have a multipurpose pressure zone that can be turned on to control more things at a tap?

Fingerprint reader returns?

OK, let’s chalk this one up as more of a wish-list item.

Face ID works fine, and Apple says it’s more secure than its fingerprint reader.

But there are times when that trusty Touch ID sensor works pretty well. The requirement to double tap the side button for Apple Pay makes for a process that’s a little clunkier than before. There’s also the limit of one face per iPhone X, which isn’t great if you have a spouse or kids constantly grabbing your device.

force-close-apps-iphone-x

The iPhone X has a radical new control scheme. 


Jason Cipriani/CNET

Bringing back Touch ID would address that issue. Prior to the release of the iPhone X, rumors cropped up over Apple working to embed a fingerprint sensor underneath the screen. That obviously didn’t pan out, but the technology is feasible. Chinese phone maker Vivo in June showed off a phone using Qualcomm technology that embedded the sensor underneath the display — with no need for a physical button. The phone is expected to come out next year.

Synaptics on Tuesday said it has begun the mass production of in-display fingerprint sensors for smartphones.

“With the fast trend toward edge-to-edge bezel-free infinity displays, and user preference for biometrics on the front of the phone, in-display fingerprint is the natural location,” said Godfrey Cheng, vice president of marketing for Synaptics. He added a top-five global phone maker would announce a phone with this feature soon.

Apple uses Authentec, a startup it acquired in 2012, for its fingerprint sensor technology. It’d be a waste if the company ditches the technology so quickly. Other companies have incorporated both facial recognition and fingerprint sensors, including Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 and the OnePlus 5T, so there’s no reason the iPhone couldn’t either.

This may be a pipe dream, with many expecting Apple to move forward with facial recognition as its go-to security feature.

“Face ID in a very short period of time has become a very natural way to unlock the phone and one that is consistent,” said Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi.

Adding TrueDepth to the back

The marquee feature of the iPhone X was the addition of the TrueDepth camera and its ability to map your face for tricks like Portrait mode-selfies.

Next year’s iPhones could incorporate TrueDepth technology to rear cameras, further bolstering its augmented reality capabilities.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is extremely bullish on AR, and it’s likely he will want to quickly push forward with the tech. The addition of TrueDepth in the rear camera can open up different possibilities. Pairing a 3D room-scanning camera with Apple’s machine learning could create a capability akin to Google Lens.

An improved depth-sensing rear AR camera could also help future augmented reality apps interact more realistically with environments. ARKit’s current tricks are impressive, but have their limits.

Notch in vogue?

The early reaction to the iPhone X’s infamous “notch,” the bit at the top of the phone that houses the TrueDepth camera, was brutal. Apple fanboys weren’t sure what to make of the design choice, which broke from the traditionally clean lines found in the company’s products.

iphone-x-outside

The notch has become a distinctive indicator that you have a flagship iPhone. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

More than a month in, and nobody is complaining about the notch anymore. The early speculation is for Apple to bring the notch design to more of its iPhones next year. And while the Essential Phone came out with a notch on the phone first, the popularity of the iPhone X has made the look its new calling card.  

“While the notch has been controversial in tech circles, it gives the iPhone X a distinctive look — so much so that Apple can use just the outline as a logo,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Global Data.

The industry has long copied iPhone features — rumored or real. Will this be the new norm for all smartphones?

Either way, we can’t wait to see what’s next. 

Does the Mac still matter? Apple execs explain why the MacBook Pro was over four years in the making, and why we should care.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET’s newsstand edition.

Black Friday shoplifters crew busted in Grafton after child left behind

PORT WASHINGTON – Black Friday deals apparently weren’t quite good enough for some visitors to the Grafton Target store, who police say were just trying to steal the season’s hottest gifts — apparently something of a family holiday tradition.

An employee recognized the group because they had hit the Target last year for Black Friday.

This year, as Grafton police rolled up on the Target on Thanksgiving evening, they saw the suspects pushing carts loaded with electronics. The holiday shoplifters bolted, one on foot and two in a vehicle, and they left an 11-year-old girl behind.

The investigation got stranger from there, but in the end, three of the crew have been charged so far. The girl’s parents were supposed to make their initial court appearances Tuesday in Ozaukee County Circuit Court but didn’t show up, so warrants were issued for their arrests.

Shaumbay Harvey, 35, and Gail McCurry, 35, both of Milwaukee, face charges of retail theft, obstructing an officer and contributing to the delinquency of a minor in the Thanksgiving incident. On Monday, they were hit with new charges from a 2014 Black Friday shoplifting incident at the same Grafton Target.

McCurry has an extensive history of shoplifting convictions, mostly misdemeanors, in several counties going back to 2002. Harvey has no prior theft convictions.

According to the complaint in the recent case:

Shortly before midnight on Thanksgiving, a Target worker noticed some people loading up carts with expensive electronics like the new XBox One gaming console. The employee recognized some of the people as having been in the store last year and called police.

Officers arrived quickly and saw the group in the parking lot with two carts filled with what turned out to be about $1,400 worth of merchandise. Some of the suspects heeded commands to stop, including the girl, and they were taken to the police station.

The girl identified McCurry as her mother. Police called her, but McCurry said she was working third shift and couldn’t pick up her daughter. After the call, police compared McCurry’s driver’s license and probation photos to photos taken by Target surveillance and realized she had actually been in on the theft.

Meanwhile, another minor being held by police was calling McCurry, and police were listening in. They had detailed discussions about another car that was still in the Target lot, loaded with stolen merchandise. McCurry told one of the callers to make sure McCurry got one of the XBoxes.

Initially, the 11-year-old told an officer only that she had been at the Target with “Daddy’s people” but later admitted she had been trying to cover for her parents.  Police then matched Harvey’s driver’s license photo to more surveillance images from Target.

Meanwhile, someone arrived at Grafton Police Department to pick up the other juveniles, identifying himself at “Tyrese Lowe,” but a sergeant immediately recognized him as another person involved in the shoplifting earlier in the night and arrested him on charges of retail theft.

One of the other suspects at the station had called the man Darnell. “Lowe” denied knowing the person or being involved in the shoplifting. His true identity was later found to be Donnell B. Finch, 18. He is charged in Ozaukee County with retail theft greater than $5,000 and two counts of obstructing an officer.

The recent charges from the 2014 incident accuse Harvey and McCurry of being part of a crew that took four Apple iPads from the Grafton Target about 10:30 p.m. on Black Friday. That time, a store loss prevention employee had information that a crew had hit a Target in West Milwaukee earlier that day. He approached the suspects and asked if they needed help, but they said no. 

The group’s method was different then. They had put the iPads into large purses carried by some women. They left the store without paying, got into a waiting car and got away.

After the arrests in this year’s case, investigators revisited the 2014 store surveillance video and identified Harvey and McCurry as being among the suspects.

Read or Share this story: https://jsonl.in/2BhcLRA

Love 3.0: How technology changes our definition of love, sex, and relationships

Last month, I traveled to Singapore to moderate a panel on Love 3.0 at the IMI Festival. The goal of the discussion was to assess whether technology has changed our definition of love, sex, and relationships. Seeing as many of us have become overzealous, right-swiping Tinder addicts, I would be inclined to say that it has. But the topic does not start and end with dating apps.

The panel was made up of four speakers: Dema Tio, cofounder and CEO of Vibease, a smart vibrator that can be used remotely in long-distance relationships and synced with erotic audio playbooks; Erin Chen, a sex and relationship counselor and founder of SPARK Fest Asia; Krystal Choo, founder and CEO of Wander, an app that allows users to chat in groups by topic of interest; and Louise Troen, the global brand director at Bumble, a social networking app that allows women to make the first move. (Note: Bumble started as a dating app but now also has friend-finding and career-networking versions.)

Above: From left to right: Bérénice Magistretti, Krystal Choo, Erin Chen, Dema Tio, and Louise Troen

Image Credit: Sunshine Nation

Here are some of the key takeaways from our animated chat.

From offline to online dating

Love letters and phone calls are long gone. Now, not only do we flirt via dating apps, texts, sexts, emojis, video chats, likes, selfies, and other highly personalized forms of communication, we screen our potential date’s social media profiles before even considering a face-to-face meetup. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter… You can learn a lot about someone by stalking their online profiles.

But while technology may have changed the way we court, it hasn’t changed the way we love, according to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies gender differences and the evolution of human emotions. The speaker recently gave a TED talk during which she explained that the core systems in our brains that drive us to love evolved over 4.4 million years ago, “and they’re not gonna change if you swipe left or right on Tinder.”

As chief scientific advisor of Match.com, she knows what she’s talking about. She added that while algorithm-powered dating sites may surface certain profiles, they do not determine who we will love. “The only real algorithm is your own human brain,” she said.

The problem with dating apps, in my opinion, is that they have become the social norm. So if you’re single and you’re not on them, something must be wrong with you. What’s more, these apps seem to encourage serial dating, pushing monogamy toward obsolescence. But perhaps this normalization of sexual freedom is a good thing, especially for women.

Is technology empowering women?

If dating apps have become the norm for both genders, are we moving toward a more progressive society, one in which you’re not shamed for sharing your sexual encounters? The double standard that glorifies men for sleeping around but denigrates women for exercising the same right is gradually being taken down. And with sexual harassment swarming across the power capitals of the U.S., women are now seeking ways to feel more in control. Enter Bumble.

The social network was originally created as a dating app that allows women to make the first move. If a man and a woman match, the woman has 24 hours to initiate a conversation.

Above: Bumble homepage

Image Credit: Website screenshot

The story behind the buzzing Austin, Texas-based startup is a very personal one. Founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd initially broke into the dating sector through Tinder, which she cofounded. After experiencing sexual harassment and online bullying, she decided to sue and part ways with the startup.

While Herd was keen on creating a women-centric app, the idea for Bumble came to light through a collaboration with Andrey Andreev, the CEO of social networking site Badoo. Today, Bumble has over 22 million users and is growing at more than 70 percent year-over-year.

Let’s talk about sex

While dating apps facilitate encounters, technology also has its place in the bedroom. One question that came up during the panel discussion is whether technology can improve sex. Vibease’s Dema Tio says it can. According to him, sex for women can be even better with a vibrator. Not that a man isn’t enough, but since about 75 percent of women never reach orgasm from intercourse alone, a little extra help is sometimes needed.

Above: The Vibease vibrator

Image Credit: Vibease

The tiny pink object is far from the porno-esque dildos we see in series like Sex & the City. That’s because Vibease isn’t meant to replace a penis — it’s more of a cherry-on-top kind of thing. What’s more, while penises may falter, vibrators never do (as long as you charge them properly). So even if you’re well into your 70s, a sex toy can always be trusted to “perform.” This was even the focus of Netflix hit Grace and Frankie, in which two 70-something-year-old women team up to manufacture and market a vibrator for the elderly. The pitch? It’s easy to manipulate and is kind to arthritis-prone users.

“We often neglect to think about the elderly when it comes to sex,” said Erin Chen, during the panel. “There is a bias against aged sex, and doctors often assume older people just don’t have any.”

But to what degree will we let technology creep into our bedrooms? Will we be having sex with robots in the future? Programming them to satisfy our every need and please us on demand?

With roboticists around the world perfecting human-like androids — think Hiroshi Ishi­guro — we might just get there one day.