There are many ways to deck out a home theater system to keep that living room looking and sounding great. Here are some quality, worthwhile upgrades to consider for the holidays.
The Roku LT would be a great product at double the price, and at $50 it's a steal. Roku has managed to shave the price way down, jettisoning unnecessary features, while keeping all of the streaming content we love -- Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, MLB.TV, and Pandora, to name a few. And if the LT is sold out, as it often is, go for the $60 Roku HD, which is nearly identical.
If you have even one iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch), the Apple TV is a no-brainer. AirPlay is the killer feature here, letting you wirelessly stream audio and video from nearly any app, straight to your TV. The recent update to add full-screen mirroring from Mountain Lion on recent Macs only sweetens the deal.
Optical media may be dying, but it's not dead yet and the Panasonic DMP-BDT200 is the best Blu-ray player for all your discs. It has the best combination of Blu-ray performance and streaming-media features, plus built-in Wi-Fi.
For all-around home entertainment, there's no better value than the PS3 Super Slim. More compact than ever, with the same unbeatable combination of Blu-ray playback, streaming video, and high-def gaming. And with regular firmware updates that add more features, it's the gift that keeps on giving.
They may not be easy to wrap, but the Pioneer SP-PK52FS is the best-sounding home theater speaker system you'll find at this price. They're jumbo speakers, but they deliver a huge sound that you just can't get from a sound bar. Just make sure to pair them up with a solid AV receiver, as they require an amplifier.
If you're giving the gift of great sound, you need to include an AV receiver. The Sony STR-DN1030 is the only AV receiver at this price to feature built-in Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth, making it easy to wirelessly stream music from most tablets and smartphones.
AV receivers tend to make pricey gifts, but Onkyo's TX-NR414 is more affordable than most. For less than $300, you get six HDMI inputs, plus it has built-in networking with extensive streaming-audio support, including Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, and Internet radio.
Most people balk at the idea of spending more than $50 on a remote control, which makes the Logitech Harmony 650 such a perfect gift. It's the most affordable Harmony universal remote and still offers the excellent activity-based commands and Web-based programming that make the brand so beloved.
Better sound quality doesn't have to lead to a tangle of wires. The Haier SBEV40-Slim sound bar is not only incredibly thin -- including its svelte wireless subwoofer -- it also sounds better than it has any right to at this size. Perfect for anyone on your gift list who still relies on his or her TV's built-in speakers.
If you're going to give a sound bar as a gift, you might as well pick one that does nearly everything right. The Vizio VHT215 looks sleek, sounds great, and has a truly good remote control, which is a rarity for a sound bar. We still think the Haier SBEV40-Slim sounds better, but the Vizio VHT215 is a close second.
If you're looking for speakers for your wish list, start with the Energy Take Classic 5.1. This nearly perfect speaker set features compact, stylish speakers with outstanding sound quality and an affordable price tag. No product is perfect, but the Energy Take Classic 5.1 system is about as close as you get.
PC speakers have a reputation for having thin, harsh sound, but the Audioengine 5+'s aren't your typical PC speakers. These self-powered speakers deliver phenomenal sound and an integrated USB port for charging your mobile devices. A solid gift for any audiophile on your holiday list.
When it comes to streaming audio, nothing beats Sonos. It's the easiest streaming-audio solution, offering up access to services like Mog, Pandora, Spotify, Sirius XM, Last.fm, Slacker, Rdio, Rhapsody, and -- most recently -- Amazon Cloud Player. The Play:3 offers solid sound at a petite size, which makes it an excellent gift for anyone who could use, say, a bedroom or kitchen audio system.
The Logitech UE Smart Radio may not be as slick and simple as Sonos, but it has a trick up its sleeve that Sonos can't compete with: a built-in rechargeable battery. That means anywhere you get Wi-Fi you can get streaming music, and the UE Smart Radio sounds surprisingly good for its small size.