When you come home after a long day at work, wouldn’t it be nice to just relax in the living room and savor your Friends reruns on Netflix, or just listen to your favorite playlists, saved on your smartphone over wireless speakers? And if you feel like continuing Friends in your bedroom, just take your tablet and pick up where you left off.
Now that Netflix has expanded globally, including Africa, you can do just that when you get home from work. Video-on-demand services have become mainstream with ShowMax leading the way with its popular R99 ($6) a month offering since 2015. And most recently, we’ve seen the bigger players launch their own music streaming services, like Apple Music and Google Play Music.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you have a decent net connection. A minimum 4Mbps ADSL line is recommended to stream content properly, with a big enough data cap to get through the month; uncapped is recommended for larger households or heavy users. If you have fiber in your area, sign up immediately. A good tip would be not to stream over 3G/LTE as it is very expensive; to prevent this from happening, enable streaming over WiFi only.
Next, you should trial the services that interest you. If you’re looking for TV series and movies, you can take a look at the following VOD services: Netflix, ShowMax or MTN-owned VU.
A basic Netflix account in South Africa costs R129 ($8), and catalogues differ vastly across regions. Another option is ShowMax, which offers offline play, handy if you find yourself traveling and need to catch up on TV. If you’re an MTN customer, the advantage of signing up with VU is that the data for streaming over 3G is zero-rated, meaning it’s free. You can subscribe for a weekend pass for R39 ($2); a month-to-month for R99 or just rent movies from R15 ($1) upwards. Make use of free trial periods to gauge how much data you use, or how long it takes to buffer.
If you’re undecided about which service to choose, check with your partner or family on what shows interest them and who offers a wider selection to cater to everyone’s needs.
If music helps you unwind in the evenings, you should consider subscribing to a music streaming service, because nobody actually buys music anymore. You can subscribe to Apple Music, Google Play Music or Deezer. All three music streaming services will cost a monthly fee of R59 ($3.7), for an individual, and let you stream as much music as you want.
If you’re already an iPhone user, it makes the most sense to subscribe to Apple Music, which has a three-month free trial and a family sharing option. Similarly, if you are on Android, Google Play Music would be the best option.
A unique feature is the ability to upload your own music to Google’s cloud and listen to what’s available in the existing catalogue, plus your own music seamlessly. If neither of these options appeal, Deezer is an excellent alternate, with over 40 million tracks in its library and a 30-day free trial. You can listen to music ad-free on your mobile, laptop or tablet. Choosing the ‘right’ music streaming service all boils down to a matter of preference.
Now that you’ve subscribed to various services, you want to be able to watch TV conveniently in your living room. A great way to start is with a smart TV. Samsung has excellent offerings, as well as LG. Make sure you purchase newer models (2015 and upwards) as they do support apps like ShowMax; and have plenty of ports (USB; HDMI). If you’re splashing out this year, opt for a 4K-resolution TV because you want it to be relevant years down the line.
The best media-streaming device currently is the new Apple TV (2015). You can download apps such as Netflix, YouTube, and even games; and play content wirelessly from an iDevice using AirPlay. You can also play a two-player game of Crossy Road with your child in the evenings. Google’s Chromecast or a Roku streaming device (various models available) are other options if you’re not tied to one ecosystem. All these devices plug into your existing TV, either through HDMI or USB and add another, more user-friendly layer.
Now that you’ve subscribed to various services, having good sound helps you enjoy it a little more. A wireless soundbar is a great addition to your living room. There are various options available from Samsung, JBL, or LG. You can even opt to go with something premium from Bang & Olufsen. There are many options available but the key feature to look out for is Bluetooth or some sort of wireless connectivity to your existing devices, and preferably USB ports; to plug in an MP3 player if the need arises.
A few final touches to your smart living room would be energy-efficient ambient light bulbs that you can control via an app, and air-conditioning. The Elgato Avea bulbs work on iOS and Android and let you choose from different moods (cherry blossom, mountain breeze, magic hour, etc) for different times of the day. Samsung air-conditioners with inverter technology means it consumes less energy while keeping costs down, and you can set timers.
Clearly, it’s time to scrap the morass of wires concealed under duct tape in your living room.