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Christmas Gift Guide
Smart Home

6 high-tech ways to decorate for the holidays

Tech your halls with cool lights, smart gadgets and the only thing a self-respecting geek should put atop the tree.

atmosfx-christmas-projections

Use AtmosFX's animated projections to add some holiday flair to your walls, windows and/or front yard.

AtmosFX

It's decoratin' time!

Time for the lights, the wreaths, the tree -- all that stuff. Of course, this is 2017, and that means you can put a high-tech spin on many -- if not most -- of your holiday decorations. Let's take a look at some of the coolest ways to tech your halls.

Put a holographic Santa in your yard

holographic-santa

Your yard-Santa could sing and dance.

AtmosFX

What's cooler: an inflatable plastic yard-Santa that just, well, stands there, or a fully animated holographic Santa who looks real and sings Christmas carols?

Exactly.

That's the kind of high-tech effect you should be thinking about this Christmas. And you can get one for surprisingly cheap: AtmosFX sells a variety of really cool Christmas-themed animations, with prices starting at just $6. Options range from the aforementioned singing Santa to virtual Christmas trees to picturesque winter-wonderland scenes.

As with the company's equally cool Halloween animations, you'll need a projector. Depending on the animation, you'll also need an open wall space, a sheet of sheer fabric or a life-size prop for the yard. (Check AtmosFX's helpful how-to videos to learn more.)

Decorate your car with Christmas lights

vw-bug-with-christmas-lights

Official Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Julio McGraw/Released

Driving in a holiday parade? Heading to a Christmas tailgate party? Whatever the occasion, consider tricking out your vehicle the way you do your tree: with festive lights!

CNET's Alina Bradford provides all the details in her Christmas-car tutorial, including what kinds of bulbs to buy and how to supply power. Just make sure to check with local law enforcement, because it may be illegal to actually drive around with your car all lit up. 

Install flickering-flame bulbs

texsens-led-flickering-bulb

Give your lights a "classic-Christmas" look with an animated LED-flame bulb.

Texsens

Nothing says "old-school holidays" like flickering candles, the kind you might set in your windows or even your outside light fixtures. Of course, real candles aren't exactly outdoor-friendly, and they're a messy fire-hazard indoors.

Enter flickering-flame bulbs, which simulate a candle or even a small torch. These work just like regular bulbs, screwing into a standard E26 base and displaying an actual animated flame. (That's in contrast to bulbs that merely have flame-shaped filaments; these actually flicker and dance just like the real deal.)

An Amazon search for "LED flickering flame bulb" reveals a lot of very similar-looking products, most of them priced around $30. One popular option seems to be this Texsens bulb, which employs 105 internal LEDs to produce a bright, realistic-looking flame. At this writing it sells for $32.

Get smart about lights

Do your Christmas lights just, um, light? You can do better. For example, the Light Rhapsody is a 25-foot, 24-bulb strand of LEDs you can control using any Alexa-compatible device.

For example, you can tell Alexa to turn all the bulbs green, adjust the brightness or blink the lights in tune with music (played via Amazon Music, natch). They run about $60 per strand, and you can link 3-4 at a time depending on which Echo device you own.

light-rhapsody

These may look like standard holiday LEDs, but the Light Rhapsody strand pairs via Bluetooth with your Amazon Echo -- meaning you can control it with voice commands.

Light Rhapsody

The Light Rhapsody is designed for indoor use; if you want something for outside, check out Lumenplay's app-controlled C7 lights. A starter kit with 12 bulbs sells for $60; 24- and 12-bulb expander strings cost $80 and $50, respectively.

The Lumenplay lights work like most indoor smart bulbs you've seen: You can program them to display virtually any colors, set up different themes and scenes, pulse the lights to music and so on.

Stake out a laser projector

By now you've seen these, well, everywhere. Unlike old-school holiday projectors, which might cast a smiling Santa on your garage door, these laser-powered modern models bathe nearly your entire house in red and green -- everything from simple points of light to animated snowflakes.

It's certainly an easier way to decorate than stringing up lights, and you get more "mileage" from one projector than you would from several strands of bulbs.

This can be a pretty inexpensive option, too: The 1byone Christmas Laser Light Projector, for example, currently sells for just $20. It covers your house in red laser "stars" and green Christmas trees, and it automatically shuts off after six hours -- then turns on again after 18.

That's no moon... it's a tree topper

jgsv-star-wars-death-star-tree-topper

The Force is off the charts with this tree-topper.

ThinkGeek

"Yeah, like I'm going to spend $100 for a decoration that goes on top of my... OH MY GOD IS THAT A DEATH STAR?!"

It is, and it's exactly the tree topper you've been looking for. ThinkGeek's Hallmark Keepsake Star Wars Death Star Tree Topper Ornament lights up, plays Star Wars music and even comes with an Imperial-themed remote.

I'm Jewish, but I'd totally "go Christmas" if it meant I could have this ornament. (Say, ThinkGeek... how about a Chanukah menorah with light saber candles??)

And, yeah, it costs $100. (Pro tip: You can score 9 percent cash back from BeFrugal!) But can you really put a price on holiday happiness?

CNET Smart Home: We transformed a real house into a test lab for the hottest category in tech.

Tech Culture: From film and television to social media and games, here's your place for the lighter side of tech.