2021 Top Picks of the Year

Looking back on 2021, I can honestly state that it represented an improvement over 2020, though it didn't end up being the full-scale return-to-normal everybody was looking for. A/V consumer and trade shows such as CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis were gutted. Supply chain logjams delayed the arrival of new gear, particularly in core categories like speakers and A/V receivers, both of which ended up underrepresented in our 2021 Top Picks of the Year list compared with previous years. But even with all the challenges, the wheels of industry continued to grind, with much fantastic gear coming in for us to test and recommend.

What else happened in 2021? It was yet another peak year for video streaming, and for Premium VOD releases that let viewers stream the same movies showing in theaters at home in glorious 4K/HDR with Dolby Atmos sound. Relative newcomers like Disney+ racked up millions of new subscribers based on shows like Peter Jackson's The Beatles: Get Back series, along with legacy content such as the Star Wars franchise and Marvel Cinematic Universe. Music streaming also made big waves, with Apple Music adding both lossless high-res upgrades and Dolby Atmos mixes to its extensive library, and Amazon Music Unlimited expanding on the Atmos front by making its offerings available for listening with third-party hardware. High-res music stalwarts like Tidal and Qobuz, meanwhile, continued to flourish and to add features.

Even as streaming continued its unstoppable forward march, physical discs sales remained vibrant, though numbers were down by as much as 20 percent compared with 2020, the year movie theaters shuttered and everyone was watching from home. Still, we saw plenty of great new and catalogue titles released on Ultra HD Blu-ray, along with many excellent box sets, including lavish ones from George Harrison (All Things Must Pass) and The Beatles (Let it Be). We also witnessed the arrival of new Ultra HD disc players, a category that had been dithering, from French startup Reavon in 2021. We of course were quick to review these, and to award them TPoY in the Source Component category.

Same as in 2020, TV sales boomed in 2021, with viewers continuing the trend of choosing larger screen sizes. TV prices also hit new lows for both high-end and high-value sets. For one example, LG's "Gallery" 65G1PUA OLED Ultra HDTV, our 2021 TV TPoY, sells for $3,000—$500 less than the company's 65GXPUA OLED that took that prize in 2020. On the high-value front, the TCL 6-Series 65R635 Roku Ultra HDTV we reviewed in early 2021 now sells for $1,000, while the 70-inch Vizio M70Q7-J03 LCD Ultra HDTV that TV expert Thomas J. Norton also gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to can be found for as low as $750! Many new high-end TVs, such as the LG, Sony, and Samsung models we tested in 2021 also now feature multiple HDMI 2.1 inputs, which let you experience high frame-rate games when using the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles—if you can find one of those!

The audio scene in 2021 saw the arrival of plenty of affordable soundbars, including some with Dolby Atmos capability, virtual or otherwise. There were also many new and interesting compact high- performance subwoofers, along with an expanded range of sophisticated wireless speaker options. We were happy to get some quality time testing out Trinnov Audio's Altitude16 surround sound processor in 2021. How happy? The Altitude16 earned our overall Top Pick of the Year award based on its innovative, highly customizable feature set, and on reviewer David Vaughn's glowing write-up.

While a sophisticated $18,000 surround sound processor is something that attracts our interest here at S&V, we're also always looking out for high-value gear. For 2021, we're proud to present an expanded list of products that earned a Top Value badge, including our Top Value of the Year: Monolith by Monoprice's Encore T6 surround speaker system. At around $1,400 for a speaker package that offers this level of quality and performance, you really can't go wrong.

While the list that follows represents Sound & Vision's Top Picks for 2021, it also includes products reviewed in our December 2021/ January 2022 and February/ March 2022 print issues. Prices are subject to change from the MSRP listed when the review was originally printed, so check online to see the latest deals.

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Yes! Despite disruptions like supply chain delays affecting new gear availability, there were notable advancements. Video streaming continued to surge, bolstered by releases like Disney+'s Beatles documentary and technological upgrades in music streaming platforms. Physical disc sales remained resilient, albeit slightly lower than 2020. TV sales soared with larger screens and lower prices, and the audio sector saw innovations in soundbars and surround systems. Overall, while not without obstacles, 2021 showcased resilience and innovation across the audiovisual landscape.

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