Top Picks Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous
Dish Hopper HD DVR: $10/mo DVR fee
If you love watching TV but hate commercials, Hopper is your DVR. It’s PrimeTime Anytime feature automatically records all primetime shows on ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC and stores them on a massive 2-terabyte drive for eight days so you can watch recorded shows without commercials with the Auto Hop feature. As reviewer Darryl Wilkinson put it, “This feature alone makes it worth getting the Hopper—even if you have no interest in any of the other features.” Speaking of other features, you can record up to six live HD channels simultaneously and set up a whole-house entertainment system by linking the DVR to as many as three Joey slave units. (September 2012, Read Full Review)
Samsung Smart Hub Streaming Platform
Samsung’s Smart Hub streaming platform found on the company's Smart TVs and top-line Blu-ray players is a robust media streamer that rivals the best standalone media players. It delivers trouble-free streaming, superior picture and sound quality, access to hundreds of apps, and a global search function that makes it easy to find content wherever it resides. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote: “I streamed my go-to test video, Men in Black II from Vudu, with my Denon A/V receiver connected to the [TV]…and it resulted in the best surround sound and the clearest picture I’ve seen short of Blu-ray.” (January 2013 Read Full Review)
Netgear NeoTV NTV200 Media Streamer: $50
This inexpensive media streamer is easy to set up and provides wired or wireless access to Web content from Netflix, Vudu, Pandora and dozens of other service providers. The device can stream high-def movies from Vudu and has an intuitive interface for creating your own channels. You can control the box using the supplied remote, or download a free app and use your smartphone or tablet. Reviewer Kim Wilson wrote: “The greatest asset to this player is Vudu...and an extensive array of fun, informative, and social content.” (May 2012, Read Full Review)
Amped Wireless REC10 High-Power Wi-Fi Range Extender: $70
If you’re looking for a simple and effective way to boost a weak Wi-Fi signal so you can enjoy HD-quality video streaming on a smart TV or tablet, the tiny REC10 range extender may be just what the doctor ordered. Using the REC10 to bolster his wireless network was like “unleashing a tiger,” gushed reviewer Rob Sabin. “The REC10’s excellent performance in my real-world evaluation was undeniable. It took an aging Wi-Fi router that was virtually unusable for video streaming and…turned it into a robust wireless network that had no trouble streaming full HD 1080p content…” (SoundandVision, Read Full Review)
Western Digital WD TV Play Media Player: $70
An update of last year’s WD TV Live media streamer, WD TV Player is a stellar audio and video performer that offers the quality and usability of its predecessor for $30 less. Updates include an intuitive grid-style menu that can be customized to move frequently used channels and apps to the Favorites screen, a smaller remote with dedicated buttons for Netflix and other popular services, a remote app for using your smartphone to control the player, and built-in SlingPlayer for streaming live TV from a Slingbox. (October 2013, Read Full Review)
Netgear NeoTV Max Media Streamer: $70
The NTV-300SL (aka NeoTV 300 Max or just NeoTV Max) is the only media device (so far) to use Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) technology to turn your TV into a second monitor for your computer. The tiny box is DLNA-certified and provides access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, or any Website when it’s connected to a WiDi-enabled laptop. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote, “The NeoTV Max has the features you’d expect on a $100 player, but it’s priced at $70. If you have wanted to wirelessly connect your computer to your TV, this may be the way.” (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
Amazon Fire TV Streaming Media Player: $99
Amazon’s surprise entry into the world of media streamers is a welcome addition. The sleek looking Fire TV boasts a quad-core processor with 2 GB of memory, making it the fastest streamer available. It also offers a number of popular games and is equipped with an excellent remote control and an impressive voice search function. Speak into the microphone and your search term—cast, crew, title—appears on screen. Bonus: If you’re an Amazon Prime member you get ready access to the Amazon Instant Video library and the system makes intelligent recommendations based on your viewing history. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Western Digital WD TV Live Media Streamer: $99
WD TV Live delivers solid video and audio performance and is equipped to play 1080p video with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. It supports wired or wireless (via Wi-Fi) streaming and gives you access to streaming services Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu as well as social media sites and more; it also plays just about any kind of photo, music, or video file. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez concluded: “WD TV Live is a great choice if you want to stream media both online and from your home network.” (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
Roku 2 XS Media Streamer: $99
Comprehensive, Wi-Fi compatible, and easy to operate, the Roku 2 XS adds Internet streaming to any TV or home theater system from a box the size of a hockey puck and gives you direct access to the popular game, Angry Birds. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote: "If you are looking for a good way to stream movies, TV, music, and other online content in an easy-to-use manner—or if you are truly addicted to Angry Birds—the Roku 2 XS is a solid choice." (April 2012, Read Full Review)
Logitech Harmony Link Smartphone/Tablet Universal Remote App: $99
We’ve always liked the Harmony remote controls for their low cost and easy wizard-based in-the-cloud programming. The Link brings the Harmony activity-based one-touch control option to smartphones and tablets, adding features like an exclusive program guide for the iPad version. It’s a remarkable value for what amounts to a sophisticated touchscreen system controller that is intuitive and ultrasimple to operate. (May 2012, Read Full Review)
Roku 3 Media Streamer: $100
Everything about the Roku 3, the latest version of the popular media streamer, is better than previous generation models. Dual-band wireless capability greatly improves streaming performance, the box is lighter and physically smaller yet adds a headphone jack, and a new interface and remote control make it easier to stream favorite movies and TV shows, now available on more than 750 entertainment channels. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez called it one of the best media streamers you can buy. (July/August 2013, Read Full Review)
Roku Stick Media Streamer: $100
Like it’s big brother, the 2 XS, the Roku Stick adds Internet streaming to a TV but this time from a thumb-drive-size device that plugs into the HDMI input on a Mobile High Definition Link (MHL)-enabled TV (MHL enables the Stick to get power through the HDMI connection). With the tiny stick in place, you can stream content from your home network and tap into more than 700 channels, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and many other streaming services. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez was impressed with its performance and concluded: “If you can use a Roku Stick and like Roku’s offering, it’s definitely the way to go.” (May 2013, Read Full Review)
Vizio Co-Star Streaming Player with Google TV: $100
The Co-Star lacks some of the features offered on Sony’s NSZ-GS7 player, but costs $100 less and supports 1080p resolution with Dolby Digital Plus pass-through and 3D playback. A slick Movies and TV app recommends movies and TV shows (based on ratings you've assigned to programs) and tells you where you can watch them, while the Bluetooth remote provides one-touch access to Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote: “The Vizio is a good value and a good way to bring Google TV to your home theater.” (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
Sony SMP-N200 Media Player: $100
The SMP-N200 comes highly recommended as a great way to bring trouble-free, high-quality audio and video streaming from Netflix, Hulu Plus and other popular sites to your home theater. It’s easy to set up and use, supports Dolby Digital surround sound, and plays a wide variety of file formats. In the words of reviewer Barb Gonzalez: “This is an awesome player that will do the job in 1080p full HD while delivering great value. Recommended.” (September 2012, Read Full Review)
Sonos Play:1 Wireless Speaker System: $199
The cost of owning a Sonos wireless music system is lower than ever with the diminutive Play:1. Connect it to your router, download the free controller app to your smartphone or tablet, and start building a wireless wholehouse music system with access to dozens of streaming services. Describing its sound as spacious and engaging, reviewer Rob Sabin wrote: “There are many high-performance wireless Bluetooth speakers out there, but none of them offer the multiroom options of Sonos’ app-based control system.” (April 2014, Read Full Review)
Sony NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV: $200
The NSZ-GS7 turns any TV in to a Google TV and excels at cleaning up poor-quality video, making it presentable on a big screen. Apps such as Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, and Sony’s Video Unlimited come pre-loaded and many others are available through Google Play. Performance is glitch-free and you get an easy-to-use Bluetooth remote with backlit keys and a mini keyboard. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez concluded: “If you want a Google TV with a great Web browser, the NSZ-GS7 is a good choice.” (December 2012, Read Full Review)
Mass Fidelity Relay Bluetooth Receiver: $249
If you’re looking for a quick, easy way to stream music from a smartphone to a home audio system, the Relay Bluetooth receiver has you covered. The compact, unassuming device is a snap to set up and uses high-quality aptX coding, upsampling, and other tricks to improve Bluetooth wireless transmission. Reviewer Al Griffin wrote: “The Relay saw more use than either the turntable or CD player during its tenure in my system. That in itself speaks volumes about its utility—and desirability.” (February/March 2014, Read Full Review)
Sonos Multiroom Audio System: $299 & up
We’ve reviewed the Sonos music system several times since its inception, and it continues to be added upon and improved. The original standalone controllers went from a clickwheel device to an elegant touchscreen controller, and now Sonos supplies an app for smartphones and tablets with the same functionality. In addition to the original mix of player modules, suitable for playback through an existing audio system or speakers, the company now sells two self-powered player/speaker systems and a powered subwoofer. Wireless connections to your home network’s music files and iTunes and the various rooms make it easy to install. (Read Full Review)
Xbox 360 as Media Streamer: $300-$400
Everybody knows Xbox 360 is a top-ranked video-game console with state-of-the-art voice and gesture control as an option, but did you know it's also a media streamer with access to oodles of online content, including tons of live sports, and high-def performance almost as good as Blu-ray? Reviewer Barb Gonzalez called it her “go-to player,” providing easy access to her favorite streaming services and, with the optional Kinect module, letting her search for programs by voice without leaving the couch. (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
Darbee Darblet Visual Presence Video Enhancer: $349
Reviewer Kris Deering was not a fan of image enhancers—until he met the Darbee Darblet, which he dubbed “the best video enhancement tool” he has ever used. It probably won’t win any awards for cosmetics but it will make the image on your screen “something to gasp at,” taking depth, definition, detail and contrast to another level—and without negative consequences. Deering was so impressed that he suggests trying the Darblet before upgrading to a new HDTV or projector. (January 2013, Read Full Review)
DVDO Quick6 HDMI Switcher, $399
The Quick6 is not just another boring HDMI switcher—far from it. It has six HDMI inputs, two of which are MHL-compatible for connecting smartphones and tablets, and is the fastest and most well-rounded switching box reviewer Kris Deering has ever tested. In addition to supporting the new HDMI 2.0 standard—which means it can pass 3D and 4K signals at up to 60 frames per second—it has two HDMI outputs plus TosLink and coaxial digital outputs so you can route audio signals to pre-HDMI legacy components. (May 2014, Read Full Review)
V-Moda Vamp Verza Headphone Amp: $598 (Metallo case, $101)
For most of us, the smartphone is a constant companion and a sort of electronic swiss army knife that puts almost any form of entertainment and communication at our fingertips. Problem is, it can’t excel at everything and audio quality usually gets short shrift. Verza is certainly not cheap but it will upgrade your phone’s audio so you can enjoy high-resolution music without having to reach for an iPod or other dedicated player. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
TiVo Roamio Pro DVR, $599
The Roamio Pro is proof that digital video recording pioneer TiVo continues to perfect the art of intelligent time shifting. This latest DVR boasts a refreshingly fast and intuitive onscreen program guide with a powerful search function, six tuners to ensure you’ll never miss a favorite show, and a massive 3 terabyte drive that can store up to 450 hours of high-def video. If that’s not enough, Roamio also has built-in Wi-Fi for streaming movies and music from popular online services like Netflix and Spotify and a liberating iOS/Android smartphone app that facilitates content sharing, DVR control, and more. (April 2014, Read Full Review)
NAD VISO 2 Wireless Music System: $600
Supercharge music from your Apple devices wirelessly (via Bluetooth aptX) or by simply placing your iPhone or iPod in the sturdily constructed dock attached to this cylindrical sound system. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann was so impressed with the system’s musicality and bass that he called it “the best one-piece docking system" he’s ever heard "[It’s] a step up from small iPod speakers and table radios for ad hoc music lovin’ in that great big world beyond the sweet spot.” (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
Astell & Kern AK100 Music Player: $699
The AK100 portable music player ventures beyond the iTunes universe to open a world of high-resolution music playback. Compatible with Windows 2000 to Windows 7, it has 32 GB of memory, expandable via two Micro-SD slots, and supports lossless AIFF, FLAC, and APE files as well as uncompressed WAV files at up to 24 bits/192 kHz. Summing up his impressions, reviewer Mark Fleischmann wrote: “The Astell & Kern AK100 is something I’ve long feared—a portable music player that impeaches the integrity of my several iPod nano and SanDisk Sansa players.” (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
NuVo Technologies Wireless Music System: $1,277
NuVo introduced a server-based whole-house music system a decade ago and has been refining the art ever since. Its latest wireless system is not only simple to set up and use but has an intuitive and engaging interface for iOS/Android smartphones and tablets and delivers excellent sound quality when mated with good speakers. “Working the system is so stupidly simple that describing it in words does it an injustice,” wrote reviewer Rob Sabin. “It always brought a smile to my face and joy to my ears.” (December 2013, Read Full Review)
Autonomic MMS-2 Media Server: $1,995
The MMS-2 is a small, 7.5-inch-wide black box with a 500-gigabyte hard drive that serves up music in two listening zones. It’s easy to set up, has an intuitive interface and can play just about any audio format, including 96-kilohertz/24-bit files. You can stream content from your home network as well as Internet services like Pandora and sync your local library with music stored in the cloud (via MP3tunes). All this from, as reviewer Darryl Wilkinson put it, “one of the most feature-packed, dual-zone music servers you can buy.” (October 2011, Read Full Review)
Kaleidescape Cinema One Blu-ray Player/Server: $3,995
If you’re tired of rummaging through disc cases and enduring non-skippable FBI warnings and trailers, it’s time consider a movie server. The Cinema One serves up compression-free HD movie downloads, the ability to import bit-for-bit Blu-ray discs and DVDs, a brilliant user interface, and an easy-to-use remote. The hands-down best feature? Play Movie, which starts playback immediately, bypassing ads, trailers, and menus. Reviewer Darryl Wilkinson called it a “reference-quality player” and said the Kaleidescape Experience is one you’ll never forget. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Kaleidescape 1U Server and M500 Player: $16,470
Make no mistake about it: The Kaleidescape server/player combo is expensive but it goes far beyond being just a movie server, providing best-in-class library management and organization, intuitive search and navigation and the ability to stream movies in all their high-def and lossless-audio glory throughout your house. Reviewer Shane Buettner wrote: It’s a different animal altogether. It’s a networked digital media distribution solution that dramatically changes the way you access and experience your content—for the better.” (October 2010, Read Full Review)
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