Upgrade That Home Theater: Eight Great Gift Ideas for 2015
Looking to help someone upgrade their personal home theater this year? One of the nice things about having a personal home theater is getting the surround sound benefits of a real theater without having to put up with the annoying sounds of people talking on their cell phones, babies and young children making noise or chatterboxes commenting about everything that’s happening on the screen. Check out our picks from some of the best home theater tech that would make great gifts this year.
Buy This Gift for Someone Who Wants Streaming 4K Video
Definitely a solid upgrade for anyone with an older streaming set-top box like the early Roku boxes or an Apple TV, the Roku 4 (reviewed here) is one of the top set-top boxes to access applications like Netflix, Hulu Plus, VUDU and Amazon Instant Video. Able to stream 4K Ultra HD video at 60 frames per second, other features of the Roku 4 include a remote control finder, universal search across all apps and 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi connectivity. (The new 4K Amazon Fire TV at $99 is also available, but we DO NOT recommend it.)
MSRP: $129 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: n/a
- Pros: Competitive price point. Extremely fast user interface. Plays 4K Ultra HD video with ease. Includes headphone jack in remote for private listening and microSD for 128GB memory expansion.
- Cons: Gaming apps are the weakest among competitors. Fan noise can be annoying.
Buy This Gift for Someone Who Wants Dolby Atmos / DTS:X Audio
Ideal for someone with speaker already, the Onkyo TX-NR646 7.2-Channel Network A/V Receiver will bump up a home theater into the 4K world. Including decoding for the newest audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, this receiver supports both the HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0, both requirements for HDMI transfers from modern Ultra HD televisions. It also includes built-in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Airplay for streaming music from services like Pandora and Spotify.
MSRP: $699 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: n/a
- Pros: Includes 7 HDMI inputs for multiple components. Powerful 170 watts per channel. Supports audio setup for secondary room in a home.
- Cons: More ideal for moderately sized speakers than large. Smartphone app reviewed as being buggy.
Buy This Gift for Someone Who Hates Their Cable Box
While cable companies are catching up slowly, TiVo is still a superior company when it comes to user interface and the quality of the software on DVR boxes. Enter the TiVo Bolt, a killer DVR box that offers 4K Ultra HD recording and a commercial break skip option that will zip you through your favorite show. The base model of the Bolt can record 4 shows at once with a 500 GB recording capacity.
MSRP: $299 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: n/a
- Pros: Includes the first year of TiVo service for free, Quick Mode option plays back recorded shows 30% faster. Can link to 7 other TVs in home with TiVo Mini.
- Cons: Additional TiVo Mini’s have a $150 MSRP, Upgrade to 1TB version costs an extra $100.
Buy This Gift for Someone Who Needs to Protect their Home Theater
It’s surprising how often people purchase expensive televisions and home theater systems, but neglect to protect their investment with a powerful surge protector. While Monster has actually produced a decent line of these devices, we are partial to the Tripp Lite HT10DBS surge protector. This hardcore surge protector provides 3840 joules of total protection and includes connections for coaxial cable, the home phone line and the high speed Internet line.
MSRP: $139 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $48
- Pros: Out of 10 outlets, 4 are made for extra wide power adapters. Comes with $500,000 insurance if any electronics are damaged. Has built-in diagnostic tools for testing outlets.
- Cons: Large, bulky design may not fit easily behind home theater furniture. Expensive when not on sale.
Buy This Gift to Upgrade Audio in a Bedroom / Office / Apartment
Using a full home theater setup with a large 12-inch subwoofer is not ideal for small rooms or apartments. It’s tough to fit tons of large speakers into a small area and can rattle your neighbors if living in a multi-unit apartment. That’s where the Yamaha ATS-1030 soundbar comes in. This 35-inch soundbar provides a much higher quality of audio than speakers built into a television while keeping the volume tolerable for small or shared spaces.
MSRP: $249 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $150
- Pros: Clear voice feature improves clarity in dialog, Bluetooth connectivity, easy setup, includes optical cable, solid bass performance for soundbar.
- Cons: Sound field won’t be as impressive as a full 7.1 system. Doesn’t include HDMI input, only optical.
Buy This Gift for Someone Who Isn’t Happy with a “Small” 60-inch HDTV
Definitely a great gift for someone with a room in their home dedicated to a home theater, the Optoma HD28DSE projector offers 1080p playback as well as 3D playback for those who like to wear the glasses. Providing 3,000 lumens of total brightness, you can easily project a 107-inch image from 12 feet away. The lamp life is rated up to around 4,000 hours depending on brightness levels, and the projector includes two HDMI inputs if connecting a secondary video source like a gaming console.
MSRP: $799 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: n/a
- Pros: Works well in living rooms where all the light cannot be eliminated, fantastic contrast ratio (30,000 to 1),
- Cons: Since it’s DLP, users could be subject to rainbow effect. Will require additional active 3D glasses for guests.
Buy This Gift for Someone Who Already Has an A/V Receiver
Ideal for someone setting up their first 7.1 system, the Onkyo SKS-HT540 7.1 Channel speaker system is an extremely well-reviewed speaker package that includes a solid 130-watt rating per speaker and a powerful 230-watt, 10-inch subwoofer. The speakers have a fairly small footprint compared to large, floorstanding models and are ideal for content with significant directional audio effects such as action movies or video games.
MSRP: $349 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $150
- Pros: Powerful, tight bass effects. Extremely clear vocals during conversation scenes. Extremely competitive price for a turnkey speaker solution.
- Cons: Difficult to wall-mount due to large size (but not impossible). Sub has no phasing switch. Included speaker wire is very thin.
Buy This Gift for Someone Who Hates Having Seven Remote Controls
While the Harmony Elite is getting great reviews, we actually recommend going with a previous generation model due to the high $300+ price tags of the new Harmony models. Check out the Harmony Touch Universal Remote (with color touchscreen) at a $100 sale price ($200 MSRP) or the Logitech Harmony Home at a $75 sale price ($150 MSRP). Both will give you significant control over the remotes currently lost in your couch cushions.
MSRP: $199 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $100
- Pros: Up to 50 customizable channel icons. Includes a recharging station. Controls up to 15 devices in your home theater. Can program sequences of events.
- Cons: Must repeat setup when new devices are added into the mix. Could use more physical navigation buttons. Touchscreen can be finicky.