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When it comes to technology, the Ericsons are hardly behind the times. Between them, this family of four (mom Tina and dad Adam, both 46, son Sean, 13, and daughter Ingrid, 10) owns three computers, three TVs, an iPad, and an Xbox 360 -- plus, everybody has their own smartphone. Even so, they felt pretty clueless. "When it comes to entertainment stuff, we have no idea what we're doing," says Tina, a marketing consultant and publisher. She and Adam, a stay-at-home father, yearned for a simple, streamlined system that would be easy to maintain and make their home a cool place to hang out. What's more, a certain DVD incident left the couple wondering how much their haphazard ways were really costing them.
Dreaming of Streaming
The Ericsons were partying like it was 1999 -- DVDs galore, a pricey cable package, and a teenager parked on the couch by a game console. Adam also maintains a massive CD collection. Clearly his passion for music has rubbed off on the kids -- Sean often rocks out on the guitar, and Ingrid loves to sing. Dinner parties at the Ericsons' always involve a customized playlist. But the family room was the only place in the house wired for sound, and managing all the CDs was a drag.
Movie nights were equally aggravating -- not to mention potentially budget-busting. "We recently forgot to return a DVD we rented for Ingrid at Redbox," admits Adam. "By the time we saw the $80 charge on our credit card, it was too late to do anything about it." The playroom, where the Xbox lives, had become Sean's domain. Tina worried he was "spending too much time on the sofa shooting things." In other words, adjustments were in order. Some new equipment and strategies could make music, movies, and gaming less work and more fun.
Music to Their Ears
The Ericsons already had broadband Internet access and a wireless network. However, the aging router was upstairs in the playroom, a long way from the family room. It worked well enough to connect a laptop to the Internet for a quick e-mail check or to look something up, but lagged noticeably when playing video. Streaming music and movies was the goal. The first step was a network upgrade with Belkin's video-streaming optimized AC 1800 DB Wi-Fi Dual-Band AC+ Gigabit Router (belkin.com, $180). The unit is specifically designed to stream video and music to all parts of a larger house. But since the signal had to travel through two bedrooms and down a flight of stairs, a Belkin Universal Wireless AV Adapter ($100), which connects directly to the music or video player to further boost the signal, was warranted. Once a reliable signal was in place, streaming music was a question of the right equipment. The answer was a wireless music system.
The Sonos Wireless HiFi System taps a home network and wirelessly streams music to any room with a Sonos unit, effortlessly finding tunes stored on computers and delivering Internet music services such as Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM to the stereo. Attach the Sonos Bridge transmitter (sonos.com,$49) to the new wireless router, plug a Sonos Connect receiver ($349) into the stereo in the family room, and place a Sonos Play:3 ($299) -- a compact stand-alone player -- in the master bedroom. (To do this most cost-effectively if you don't have a stereo, start with the Bridge and the Play:3, then add units over time.) Setting everything up required an easy installation on Adam's laptop, then downloading the free Sonos controller app to everyone's smartphone and Tina's little-used iPad.
The Ericsons started experimenting with Internet-based subscription music service Rhapsody (rhapsody.com, $10 a month for a premier account after a 14-day free trial) so they could experience unlimited music streaming. To search for a specific song, album, or artist, they could access the Rhapsody library right from the Sonos app. The only downside was that within minutes, Sean and Ingrid waged the first of many music wars, using the app on their phones to switch back and forth between Led Zeppelin and Taylor Swift.
A Hollywood Ending
Tackling the movie-viewing situation was next. Enter the Roku (roku.com, from $50), a hockey-puck-size gizmo specifically for video streaming. Within minutes of connecting it to the Ericsons' TV and wireless network, there was an embarrassment of riches -- old movies on Netflix, new releases via Amazon Instant Video, and last night's TV episodes on Hulu Plus, one of more than 750 channels accessible through Roku. Everything was just a click -- and sometimes a few bucks in rental fees -- away. Tina quickly decided to sign up for Amazon Prime to gain access to thousands of movies and TV shows on demand, plus free two-day shipping on anything she buys at Amazon, for $79 a year after a 30-day free trial. She is starting to ponder ditching cable, since they have so much content at their fingertips.
Meanwhile, 13-year-old Sean was psyched to see a Kinect for Xbox 360 (xbox.com, $110) in the playroom. Within minutes of installing it, he and Ingrid were arguing over who would go first. The Kinect, sensing there were two of them, instantly switched to two-player mode, and a rousing game of Kinect Adventures was soon under way. To make the room a place for everyone, Adam and Tina will try working out using Nike+ Kinect Training. Initially Sean was miffed that "his" game room was, well, no longer just his, but he got over it. (Being in awe of the Kinect helped.) Tina and Adam were relieved and happy to see Sean up off the couch, exercising more than his thumbs and playing games that require interaction with his sister. "The upgrades are awesome," says Adam. "We were stuck in our old ways for too long and had no idea how easy everything could be!" Tina agrees. "This is so much better."
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.