Best products of 2012: home technology
PCWorld editors select the year's best home technology products.
One of the biggest trends that jumped out at us from this year's Top 100 list was the number of new tech products designed specifically for the home. If you thought the cocooning trend was over, think again. Tech enthusiasts are clamoring for new products for the home, and the industry is responding in a big way.
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No fewer than 16 of the high-tech products on our top 100 list in 2012 are designed for the homeand we're not even including computers here because they have their own list!
Asus RT-AC66U (Wi-Fi router)
Our most important home tech product is Asus's draft 802.11ac router. It's the fastest model we've tested, and it has the longest list of competitive features. Chief among these is a cloud-storage service that allows you to sync files stored on any device, and that gives you remote access to any PC on your network. This router holds the number nine position on our complete list.
Audioengine 5+ (speaker system)
This set of self-powered speakers can handle anything from critical listening, to game and movie soundtracks, to mixing sessions in the studio. The original Audioengine 5 system was one of the best near-field, powered monitors wed ever heard, and this model is every bit as good, thanks to the dual 50-watt Class AB monolithic amplifiers driving the 5-inch Kevlar woofers and 0.79-inch silk-dome tweeters. These superb speakers hold the number 12 position in our Top 100 list.
Jawbone Big Jambox (speaker)
The Big Jambox will rock your mobile world, pairing wirelessly with Bluetooth-enabled iOS and Android devices. And it will deliver plenty of battery life for uninterrupted outdoor listening sessions. We highly recommend the Big Jambox, which holds down number 20 on our Top 100 list.
Linksys WUMC710 Media Connector (wireless bridge)
Most 802.11ac router manufacturers expect consumers to buy two of their routers and configure one as a bridge. Thats an expensive and unnecessarily complicated solution. Linksys was a little late to the 802.11ac party, but it arrived with the absolute best product for the client side. The WUMC710 wireless bridge holds position 29 on our master list.
Sonos Sub (wireless subwoofer)
Craving a milkshake? Eat some ice cream, drink some milk, play your favorite funk on a Sonos multi-room audio system, and stand next to the Sub (number 31 on our list of 100 best products). The dual Class D amps and two force-canceling speakers in this 36-pound networked subwoofer will do the rest. Yeah, we dig it.
D-Link DCS-5222L (IP security camera)
IP cameras are great for monitoring your home, but configuring one for remote access is a pain in the neck. D-Links Cloud Camera line makes it easy. The DCS-5222Llanding at number 34 on the Top 100 listis a pan/tilt model with LED lighting for night viewing, a MicroSD card slot, and two-way audio.
Arcam rPAC (digital-to-analog converter)
This device connects to your computer via USB, sounds spectacular (for its price), is built like a tank, supports high-resolution files, and incorporates a high-quality headphone amplifier to make even power-hungry headphones sing. That's why it took the number 40 spot in our big list.
Asus RT-N66U (wireless router)
Hey, we get it. Not everyone is ready to embrace a draft networking standard. If you need a new router, but want to stick with the tried-and-true 802.11n, theres no better model than the dual-band Asus RT-N66U. When it comes to performance and features, nothing else comes close to the 43rd most impressive tech product of 2012.
Vivint Home Automation (home control/security system)
The era of the smart home is dawning, and Vivint is one reason why: Sign a $69-per-month contract and you get a sophisticated home security and automation system (alarm, electronic door lock, door/window sensors, lighting controls, an IP camera, and a programmable thermostat) installed for just $199. The Vivint comes in at number 53 on our list of the 100 best of 2012.
Libratone Zipp (wireless speaker)
Boasting an attractive industrial design, a simple setup process, and clever AirPlay and PlayDirect implementations (it can create its own Wi-Fi network), the battery-powered Libratone Zipp is easy to recommend as multiroom speaker system. If you want a portable AirPlay speaker, number 55 on our Top 100 list is an excellent choice.
AT&T U-verse (broadband Internet service)
Major infrastructure improvements typically occur in the denser populations of cities. So were tipping our hat to AT&T for deploying fiber-to-the-node in at least some rural areas to deliver its U-verse broadband Internet service. Its not as fast as cable, but its almost twice as fast as conventional DSL service. That's good enough to earn AT&T U-Verse a spot at 57 on our master list.
Netgear NeoTV Max (media streamer)
The year wasnt a big one for new media streamers, but the NeoTV Max is a honey. It can stream nearly anything over your network (with the exception of DVD and Blu-ray ISO images); plus, you can send audio and video to your TV from any laptop outfitted with Intels WiDi technology. NeoTV Max is number 59 on the Top 100 list.
ADT Pulse Premier (home control/security system)
ADTs home security and automation system is almost as good as Vivints; plus, ADT will install in-wall lighting controls if you prefer (Vivint provides only plug-in modules). ADT added electronic door locks, a new touch-screen control panel (look for our hands-on review soon), and more advanced cameras, too. ADTs up-front costs are higher than Vivint's, but its contracts are shorter. That combination earns it spot number 61 in our list of the 100 best products of 2012.
Synology DiskStation 712+ (network-attached storage)
This NAS box lets you start small and scale up. It has only two drive bays, but you can add two or five more by connecting it to Synologys DX213 or DX513, respectively. A great NAS for both home and business, the DiskStation's innovative design helped it lock down position 73 on our overall list.
Lowes' Iris (home control/security system)
Lowe's Iris system is for folks who want to dabble in home control and security without paying for central-office monitoring. This DIY package is reasonably priced, exceptionally well thought out, and very easy to install. The best kit comes with a local alarm; door, window, and motion sensors; a thermostat; and basic lighting controls. It placed 75th on our master list:
Apple TV (network media streamer)
The last product on our home tech list (number 85 overall), Apple's third-gen Apple TV sports a new processor capable of playing video at 1080p. But the real star of the show is the new software update that will run on the older 720p Apple TV, too. If you like AirPlay and the iTunes store, this is the video streamer to buy.