Top Picks Miscellaneous

Dish Hopper 3 Satellite HD DVR: $15/mo
Dish continues to evolve the state of the art in satellite TV. The Hopper 3 receiver/digital video recorder (DVR) is its latest innovation and is a piece of gear that will make you think twice about signing up for satellite whether you’re a cord-cutter or cable subscriber. In one simple-to-operate device, the Hopper 3 combines the best of satellite delivery—including 4K support—with the most compelling aspects of Internet streaming. When you also consider its extensive multiroom distribution capabilities, there’s not another home entertainment device that can match the category-bending Hopper 3. (September 2016, Read Full Review)
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)
SVS SoundPath Subwoofer Isolation System: $50
Yep, you read that right. The SVS SoundPath Subwoofer Isolation System costs fifty bucks, making it a no-brainer addition to any serious home theater system, especially one that produces deep, pounding bass. Reviewer and avowed basshead David Vaughn wrote: “Use these screw-on replacement feet to jack up your subwoofer and marvel at how they eradicate annoying buzzes and rattles." (September 2016, Read Full Review)
D-Link DAP-1520 Dual-Band Wi-Fi Range Extender: $70
D-Link promises a simple and inexpensive way to improve spotty Wi-Fi coverage, which can be a frustrating drawback for households with multiple wireless devices and a desire to stream video from online services such as Netflix. The DAP-1520 range extender delivers handily on the promise, making it a quick upgrade well worth considering if your Wi-Fi network needs a boost. (SoundandVision, 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home Remote Control: $350
The typical “universal remote” controls AV gear with little or no thought given to controlling home devices such as smart thermostats, lighting, etc. All of that changes with the aptly named Harmony Ultimate, which provides a mind boggling degree of control over home automation and home entertainment. More importantly, it’s a remote you can set up and use without the help of a professional integrator. It’s not perfect and has some limitations as a home automation controller but it does a spectacular job of unifying home control at an affordable price. (SoundandVision.com, 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)
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)
Control4 EA-1 Home Automation System: $600
One of only two home automation systems to make our 2016 Top Picks of the Year list, Control4’s EA-1 bundle sets a new standard for affordability and opportunity when it comes to professionally installed AV control and home automation. Reviewer Darryl Wilkinson summed it up this way: “In the hands of a good integrator, the EA-1 bundle is a powerful masterpiece of hardware and software, filled with exciting promise and vast potential, even more so now with...Alexa voice control.” (January 2017, 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)
Elac Discovery DS-S101-G Music Server: $1,100
Elac’s Discovery DS-S101 has no internal storage so it’s not a server in the classic sense. It’s an awesome music-management system with a high-performance digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to ensure the best possible sound quality. But what makes it special is its use of the acclaimed music library and discovery platform from Roon Labs, which, among other things, integrates with Tidal’s high-quality streaming service so your Tidal library shows up as part of your larger collection. (February/March 2018, 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)
DVDO AVLab TPG 4K Pattern Generator, $1,299
A test-pattern generator isn’t a glamorous or even popular item for most people, but it’s an absolutely essential tool for calibrators, AV reviewers, and anyone interested in wringing the best possible—and most accurate—picture quality out of a 4K/Ultra HD TV. If you already use pattern generators or have an itch to try one out, the AVLab TPG does a tremendous job as a standalone pattern generator or as a fully automated generator for complex calibrations. It doesn’t come cheap but it does come highly recommended. (SoundandVision.com, 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)
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)
Niles Auriel MRC-6430 Multiroom Audio Controller: $4,070 (as reviewed)
Niles has bridged the gap between old and new with the MRC-6430, a hard-wire multiroom audio control system offering onboard amplification for four zones, inputs for six audio sources, home theater integration, operational simplicity thanks to an intuitive user interface, and numerous control options, including iPhone/iPad and Android devices, PC/Mac, wall-mounted touchpanels and keypads, and a traditional hand-held remote. Reviewer John Sciacca wrote: “Auriel offers a ton of great features, with numerous control options, and it can interface with legacy, analog audio gear and play nice with many new IP-controlled sources.” (June 2015, Read Full Review)
Kaleidescape Strato 4K Ultra HD Movie Player: $4,495 (as reviewed)
At the time we published our review we learned that movie server pioneer Kaleidescape had closed its doors. A month later it was back with new funding and a leaner company. While the future of the company is not assured, custom installation expert/reviewer John Sciacca loved using the Strato, which abandons the disc-dependent system the company was founded on, instead relying on downloadable content: “Your home cinema experience is only as good as the weakest link in the chain, and Kaleidescape’s Strato ensures that content delivery will be of the highest caliber. For home theater enthusiasts who are passionate about picture quality and the overall cinematic experience, Strato comes highly recommended.” (October 2016, 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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