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)
Google Chromecast Streaming Media Player: $35
There are many ways to add streaming to a non-Wi-Fi-equipped HDTV these days but none are as inexpensive or as impressive as Google’s Chromecast dongle. Plug it into an open HDMI port and you’ll be streaming high-def content from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and more in no time. You can even stop watching a movie on the Chromecast and continue watching on any smartphone or tablet—and the switching is nearly instantaneous. If you’re looking to add smarts to your TV, you can’t do any better than this. (June 2014, 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)
Roku Streaming HDMI Stick: $50
Whereas the previous Roku Streaming Stick required an MHL (Mobile High Definition Link)-compatible HDMI port, the HDMI Stick is compatible with standard HDMI connections on most TVs. The tiny dongle is basically a Roku box on a stick that puts 1,700-plus channels at your fingertips. Unlike its predecessor, the HDMI Stick cannot be controlled by the TV’s remote and requires AC power. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez concluded: “Roku persists as one of the most content-rich, high-performing media players available.” (SoundandVision.com, 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)
SmartThings Hub Home Automation Controller: $99
If you’re an experienced DIYer looking for a straight forward and inexpensive path to home automation, the SmartThings Hub deserves a close look. There is no monthly subscription fee and the system supports a diverse range of Z-Wave and ZigBee wireless automation devices—from thermostats to security cameras to door locks and more. Adding devices is an intuitive, menu-driven process and you control the system using a free Android/iOS app that is powerful yet easy to use. Bottom line: the Hub gets you in the home automation game for a nominal investment. (October 2014, Read Full Review)
BiggiFi Android Media Streamer: $90
If you like the idea of displaying and playing smartphone apps and games on the big screen, then BiggiFi deserves consideration. Plug the tiny app-controlled dongle into an HDMI port on your TV and you’ve just expanded your entertainment horizons. Noting it’s uniqueness among media streamers, reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote, “BiggiFi does more than mirror an Android phone. You can even connect more than one phone at the same time, so the family can take turns playing games or controlling what is on the BiggiFi.” All that for just 90 bucks. (November 2014, 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)
Sony NSZ-GU1 Bravia Smart Stick: $150
Upgrading was never so easy: If you own a Sony Bravia TV made after 2013, use the Bravia Smart Stick to add Google TV apps and integrate all of your streaming apps with cable/satellite-delivered programming for more seamless “global” content searches. Simply plug it in and you’re ready to go. It even comes with a handy remote with a touchpad on one side and a full (mini) keyboard on the other. (SoundandVision.com, 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)
Nuvyyo Tablo DVR: $220
Tablo is a unique device that brings DVR recording and mobile viewing on smartphones and tablets to TV channels received via an over-the-air antenna. You’ll need to attach a hard-drive to store recorded shows and pay a small monthly fee for an information-packed program guide but, as reviewer John Sciacca concluded: “If you live in an area where there’s an abundance of free OTA channels and, especially if you value mobile access to your recorded content, this could be one of the best investments you make in your TV watching future.” (SoundandVision.com, 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)
Sony PlayStation 4: $400
Sony has upped the video game ante with incredible graphics and the ability to share gameplay at the touch of a button on its redesigned controller, which doubles as a remote. As a media streamer, the console serves up excellent picture and sound quality and comes preloaded with some of the most popular apps, including Netflix (with a Max feature that recommends movies based on your interests), Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu Plus. PS4 is a no-brainer for hard-core gamers yet still worthy of consideration for those who are equally interested in its media capabilities. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Microsoft Xbox One: $499
The Xbox One is a home entertainment powerhouse—a multifaceted media hub for games, movies, music, Web browsing, and more. You’ll love its well-executed voice control not to mention its panoply of streaming features, hyper-realistic graphics, and involving game play. Oh, and it does a great job as a Blu-ray player, too. If you like the idea of a multitasking, multifunctional box that gracefully melds the worlds of gaming, movies, and music, the Xbox One deserves careful consideration. (SoundandVision.com, Read Al Griffin’s review Read Barb Gonzalez’s streaming-focused 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)
Sony HAP-S1 High-Resolution Audio Player, $999
With a 500-GB hard-drive, 24-bit file playback capability, HDD Audio Remote app, and easy-to-operate design, the HAP-S1 is sure to grab the attention of any 21st Century audiophile. Instead of streaming music directly from a PC or external drive, it’s designed to transfer audio files from your computer and play them from its own hard drive. It even supports vTuner Internet radio and has a built-in amp to power a pair of desktop speakers. Summing up, Mark Fleischmann wrote: “As a player, it does a superb job, with an interface that makes accessing music not only easy but fun.” (June 2014, 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)
Astell & Kern AK240 Music Player: $2,500
A super-charged version of Astell’s AK100 portable player), the AK240’s mission is to facilitate state-of-the-art playback of the highest of high-res music. And that means native DSD decoding, support for virtually all audio formats, and 256 GB of internal storage with an expansion slot for a microSD card songs. Is the AK240 worth the price of 10 iPod classics? Reviewer Mark Fleischmann wrote: “For most readers, the question is academic (and probably irritating). But this is the best portable audio player I’ve enjoyed to date, with unassailable build quality, sweet aesthetics, not-half-bad ergonomics, and stupendous sound…” (July/August 2014, Read Full Review)
Baetis Audio Revolution II Media Server, $2,995
The Windows-based Revolution II server is tailor-made for audio perfectionists who want instantaneous access to high-res music files without compromising sound quality. It makes it easy to rip CDs and import music files to its 120-GB internal drive and supports all known playback and encoding formats. Reviewer Kris Deering’s take? “I came away immensely impressed…Baetis does a fantastic job of setting up everything…and their user guide couldn’t be easier to follow. But the key selling point is the sound, which was utterly spectacular.” (SoundandVision.com, 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)
Steiger Dynamics LEET Home Theater PC: $5,635
Though not for everyone, HTPCs offer incredible access to content for your enjoyment. This includes games, of course, but also media streaming, Web pages, and personal video/audio libraries. Sure, you can get most of that through other devices, but often not as easily or well. Enter LEET Reference, a custom-built, liquid-cooled (!) PC that looks like a high-end power amp. Think of it as the ultimate multimedia computer: super fast, super quiet, and equipped with a whopping 9 terabytes of storage. Home entertainment will never be the same. (July/August 2014, 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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COMMENTS
idaman@q.com's picture

I use you guys for buying electronics but I notice that you never do recommendations of these larger sizes that are under $3000.00.There has to be some good units out there and I am not interested in 3-D and could live without smart features if I can get a best picture at a down to earth price.

kathleen's picture

Has anyone heard of - AZON DEAL UPDATER (google it)? They have a little gold box on the site that spits out any discount promo codes for any product on Amazon. Bought my Samsung HT-E6500 lower than the discounted price. Don't think too many people know about this.

Aschinck's picture

Good afternoon guys.
As a worker in the electronic industry i often look at your top pick to see if some of my products would find a place in it. Recently i realize that for a buyer your list is kind of shitty. First most of the model are 2-3-4 years back. Would it be possible to have a top pick of 2014 and then 2015 product so we can keep a fair track?

thank you

Vrahode's picture

There has been a lot of new technology in viewing surfaces in recent years as the prior post stated. Draper, for example, who I work for has released a new line of surfaces called TecVision that out perform many competitor products through wider viewing cones, more consistent gain, lower gloss levels and even superior angular reflectivity. We would love to send samples and allow the folks at Sound and Vision the opportunity for objective comparison of these recent breakthroughs in screen technology.

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