It’s that time of year — the one when everyone is looking at a new TV. If you’ve picked out a brand new 4K set, then congratulations, there’s more beautiful HDR — and not-quite HDR — footage to experience than ever before. Of course, the journey doesn’t end there, and now that you’ve got your new TV, it’s time to think about what you’re putting around it.
Have you thought about sound, or what remote control you’ll use? After more than a decade of reviewing TVs, accessories and watching the sales every year, I have some advice on what else you’ll need after the TV is out of the box, so that you can get to the part where you’re on the couch enjoying it as fast as possible.
Opting for a soundbar can help you save space and money, and Vizio offers a slew of value-priced options that fit almost any living room or budget. The 2017-era SB3651-E6 setup that I have at home is on sale now for about $150, pairing a soundbar with a true center channel — important for clear dialogue — and a small wireless subwoofer that connects to a couple of surround speakers.
A slightly more expensive but easier-to-live-with option is the SB36312-G6. At $250, it uses software and upward-firing speakers for the effect of Dolby Atmos sound that surrounds you from behind and above.
If you don’t mind the inconvenience or spending a little more money, however, the best option might be Vizio’s SB36512-F6. It has the larger subwoofer, plus Dolby Atmos audio and some rear surround speakers to make sure everything is in the right place — better yet, it’s on sale for just $300.
Roku is a relative newcomer to the space, but its soundbar combines a streaming box and an audio upgrade all-in-one, it adds everything you’re looking for in one $150 swoop. You can also add a wireless subwoofer later for another $150, or save $60 by purchasing both now.
Remote control technology hasn’t advanced quite as much as the rest of home theater tech over the years, despite the proliferation of HDMI-CEC and devices that you can operate via apps.
It can tie-in with home automation setups to make adjusting for movie night a one-button affair, plus it supports Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants.
The Hub device that’s included blasts IR signals to TVs or set-top boxes even if you’re not in line-of-sight range to control them, and if the remote itself isn’t in your hand, there’s an app for iOS and Android that works no matter where you are. It’s $100 now, and it will make living in an increasingly-connected living room easier than you might expect.
STREAMING TV BOX
One of the cheapest ways to get the most new services right away is Roku’s Streaming Stick+. It’s on sale this week for $29, adding 4K and HDR capabilities, plus the apps for Disney+ and Apple TV+ right out of the box along with all of the usual suspects: Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu. You name it, it’s there.
Otherwise, your best options come from some of the biggest names. The Apple TV 4K integrates perfectly with your iPhone and Mac, offers all of the big name apps and presents an interesting option for gaming with the new Arcade package, all for $149. Google’s Chromecast Ultra will need a software update before it’s Stadia-ready, but it’s very capable and 4K-ready at $69. Last but not least, Amazon is offering some Black Friday deals on its Fire TV hardware, with the 4K Stick half-off at $25, and the Fire TV Cube that comes with Alexa built-in is on sale for $90.
Believe it or not, there are some places Wi-Fi won’t reach. If you have bandwidth requirements that wireless won’t live up to, or just face too much congestion from neighboring networks, then going hardwired is one way to make things work. Of course, not everyone is in a position to run Ethernet throughout their house, which is why you might want to try a Powerline adapter that sends network signals over your existing electric wiring.
While results will ultimately vary depending on the wiring in your walls, newer setups like the TP-Link AV2000 promise Gigabit-speed internet with just a couple of new adapters. I use it at home, with consistent connections of over 500Mbps across multiple rooms and floors. A pair of adapters costs less than $80 to get you plugged in, while an extender like the AV1300 will broadcast Wi-Fi in a new area for $120.