My Favorite Things!
I thought it would be fun to have a page with some of my favorite things at different price points. If there was a newer version of something I owned inside the price point, I went with that item instead of the older version I have in my collection. I have reviewed some of these items on my blog, so I won't do so on this page. I plan to update this list periodically.
Top 5 under $200
Nvidia Shield - While the interface isn't in the same league as the AppleTV, it is a powerhouse for less than $200. It does 4k, plays games better than anything else under $200, and Nvidia continues to update it to make it better.
Roku 4 - This isn't the powerhouse that we have in the Shield, however, it makes up for that with 4k, an optical digital output (great for those with older receivers and new 4k TVs), and the most content. It is my preference if I had to pick just one 4k player.
Philips 456194 Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit, A19 Starter, 2nd Generation - Once you switch to automated lights, it is hard to go back. The benefit is that every light fixture can now be dimmed, controlled from across the room (via Siri or Alexa), and added to scenes to make them turn different colors or for turning on a group of lights. The other benefit is that they can be tied into IFTT automation commands. Therefore, you can have them come on automatically when you get home or have them blink when your supported security camera detects motion, etc.
OnHub Wireless Router from TP-LINK and Google - I can't tell you the number of times I have read that Airplay is problematic. It is almost like a broken record from those who spend 10x more on another solution. The answer to their problematic performance is typically to replace the old router they are using. The Google onHub is easy to setup, has remarkable performance, and continues to get better all the time. As an example, with a recent update, the router is now capable of IFTT automation. It is so good that I was offered the opportunity to try out a $400 router (and keep it) and turned down the opportunity.
Apple TV 4 - If you are in Apple's ecosystem and don't care about 4k, this is the streaming box to get. In my opinion, the interface is better than both Roku and Nvidia, while at the same time it has a growing list of supported apps (over 6000 right now). It has access to Apple's iTunes Store, Home Sharing, Apple Music, Photos, iMovie, etc.
Top 5 under $100
Apple AirPort Express Base Station (MC414LL/A) (Certified Refurbished) - This can be used to expand your network, but I am putting it on the list for music. It has its own DAC or you can sent a digital signal out via Optical. This is the ideal way to get audio from your computer or iOS device to an amp.
AudioQuest DragonFly Black v1.5 USB Digital-to-Analog Converter - I have the first version of this device, but I linked the second version since it is a little cheaper and supposed to be a little bit better. This (combined with a Plugable hub and Camera adapter) will provide great sound from newer iPhones and iPads. It also just plugs into the USB port on any computer and typically improves sound over the native output. I have a video on how to use this with the iPad/iPhone.
Amazon Echo Dot - Simply awesome or kitchen duty. It has its own speaker, but it is great for connecting to amplified speakers. I use mine with a Phillips Soundring using the aux output. It will also allow audio to be sent out over bluetooth, so I have it feeding my vintage Marantz. If that isn't enough, it will control J River Media Center vocal commands. (I have a review and video that you can find on this site). I love this thing.
J-Tech Digital ® 5 Port HDMI/MHL Switch & Audio Extractor SPDIF/3.5mm Jack Stereo Outputs with Ultra HD 4K ARC EDID Setting - I use this in my office for switching the numerous HDMI devices I have in my office. I like it for switching signals, but another benefit is that it provides an optical output for devices that no longer have them (like the Nvidia Shield).
Samsung T3 Portable 250GB USB 3.0 External SSD - For less than $80 bucks you can get the 250GB version and for less than $175, you can get the 500GB version. For me, these are ideal for taking my Lightroom catalog from Desktop to Laptop. Super-fast, light, small and inexpensive. Love these things.