David Katzmaier's tips for upgrading your home entertainment during COVID-19
Movie theaters have closed.
Concerts, conferences and events have been cancelled.
Professional sports have struggled to reboot.
Production on new films and TV shows is ground to a halt.
And yet people are stuck at home and more hungry for good storytelling than ever.
So now what.
Our guest today is my colleague David Katzmaier Cnet's longtime TV reviewer and editor of our home entertainment section.
We're going to talk about the state of stuff to watch and the things you can do to make your home feel more like a theater, even if you have a limited budget.
So Dave was so many people at home right now.
Can you talk about what we're seeing in terms of the ways people are entertaining themselves and the stuff they're interested in during these unprecedented times?
Yeah, so the biggest increase Jason is streaming.
So you know, we've seen so much more interest this year in you know, the major streaming services, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video on Demand, and also the brand new ones which you know, came out.
Right around, you know this spring right around when Coronavirus did and so HBO max peacock, those were gigantic for us.
You know in terms of inch reader interest, the amount of coverage that we generated in the amount of you know, people that were just asking questions about these new services, figuring out which ones they can.
Maybe drop because now there's just such a huge proliferation of these things.
And also which ones offer which stuff and how to slice and dice it.
So it's a confusing landscape.
We've done a lot of work to try and simplify it but it's just continues to evolve.
And people are just streaming like crazy.
About Sorry, go ahead, keep going.>> So I was just gonna talk about the other aspect of streaming which is live TV.
So there's also this whole thing where we don't have any sports we don't have any new or we do have plenty of news.
We don't have any sports.
We don't have any live events like, the Oscars and stuff.
All these things are getting canceled, during Coronavirus, so People have less of an impetus one would think to watch live channels especially for sports.
But now with sports coming back we're seeing more interest there.
And in particular interest in cutting the cable TV cord so a lot of people are decided to call their cable company and say You know what, enough's enough.
I'm done with all these rental fees for my box and all these limitations and I'm going to use something like YouTube TV, Sling TV or any of these other services that we've been covering for a while to get, you know, those live channels instead and that's just going to increase I think as livestorm Sports start coming back.
How about the gear.
People obviously are at home more.
They are thinking about okay, I'm stuck here and I have a certain amount of time a lot more time than I had in the past.
And now people are giving a little more thought to their home entertainment set up their homes Theatre set up or maybe putting TVs in other places that they used to, what have we seen in terms of that, how are people rethinking what entertainment looks like in the living room?
Other places in the house,>> Right?
So TVs have always been really popular, but they're even more popular now.
You know, they're, they're spiking.
I mean, I think you nailed it when people are at home using these devices a lot.
They realize that the one that they're watching might not be as good as you know as it needs to be and, Maybe it's time to add another one in another room, for another family member, or two or three, depending on what people are doing.
So Egon, TV watching has exploded, so the interest in TVs.
I mean, you can get a 55-inch TV for 260 bucks or whatever, really inexpensive for large screens.
A 65-inch TV TV for 700 bucks, that's really really good.
These sorts of things that people can look at and go, wow it's been a while since I bought a new TV.
They're pretty cheap and why not spend that money because I'm not spending on all this other stuff, going out and whatever.
No movie theater expenses for anybody for the last few.
Few months so turn around and take that home entertainment budget and turn it into home entertainment.
Audio is another huge category we've seen explode with interest in sound bars and people realizing like those TV speakers just don't cut it.
So you know, you can get a really good soundbar for 100 hundred and 20 bucks.
And that makes a gigantic difference in your experience.
Seen it has lists of some of these things, right?
So if there's people who want to find like, okay, I want to get a new 55 inch TV, 4k in the best picture that I can afford in my living room scene.
It has lists of some of those best TVs or maybe somebody says If they haven't bought a TV in a while and they have a sort of larger living room, it's remarkable how reasonable you can get even a 65 or 75 inch TV these days, right?
C|net has lists where people can Can find all of these things.
Yeah, so those those lists all exists you should screen so as you mentioned 5565 75 those are the main TV sizes that we review.
We have lists all the way down to 32 inch.
haven't gone to 85 yet, Jason, but I think it's just a matter of time before we'll need one because you know those super gigantic TVs are just More and more popular.
I mean, again, when people upgrade Usually what happens is they'll buy a bigger TV and then they'll just take that existing TV that's, you know, relatively small Now move it to a secondary room and then watch on you know, the big options.
So, you know, there's a lot of great, again, television available out there.
And we have all these lists of things that we've reviewed, and we're continuing to review them.
So, you know, it's a growing market and it's not getting any smaller any time soon with everybody staying at home.
How about, we are of course in the midst of an economic crisis and people are tightening their belts.
So what are some of the best ways people can improve their home theatre setup without having to spend a fortune you mentioned sound bars, but maybe if somebody says to you, look, I don't want to buy an old lead or I don't want to spend $2,000 to go buy a TV You know, what options do I have under $1,000 for a TV or what are some of the other ways I can improve my home setup even if I have a decent TV?
So yeah, we'll start with the cheapest option and that's to upgrade your streaming device.
I mean a lot of people still stream for example, using Their Xbox or Playstation, right and that's fine.
But it's doesn't have as many apps as not as much freedom as something like a Roku which is our highest recommended products.
They start at 30 bucks up to 50 for the.
For the high end 4k HDR versions that you know are Editor's Choice.
And then there's also you can take a spend a little bit more on a streamer like an apple tv 4k and get you know some additional features and integration with the apple universe.
That works really well.
And again, these upgrades are relatively cheap.
They're a lot cheaper than buying a new TV and they're gonna work a heck a lot better than your game console or the Smart TV setup built into most of those older TVs like they have some pretty bad Smart TV Integrate.
Grations in the beginning.
Of course now the Smart TV integrations are very good particularly with the Roku TVs.
We've seen some really good models in the last couple of years that combined you know, excellent picture quality with this really simple Roku operating system System that you know, simple remote, it's all built in there all those apps are built in there so you can just turn around and you know have it without having to switch inputs without having to get one of these external devices.
So if you do decide to upgrade to a TV, you'll find that the Smart TV stuff in there is a lot better.
Even Samsung and LG have made Its strides, you know to make their smart TV app selection and usefulness a lot easier although we still like Roku best.
So I've heard you say before you know that those TCL TVs which have pretty they have solid picture right not it's not going to be top end.
But it is gonna be solid they make their own panels and all of that.
But they also have Roku TV integrated so the remote that comes with the TV as a Roku remote.
You have all of those apps that That are available on Roku built in.
And those who've made a lot of Editor's Choice picks from you and your team.
So the one that we like best is is the the six series The TCL 65 inch six series is in our current Editor's Choice that that series gives you actually very, very good picture quality, you know, and as well as this integrated Roku operating system so it's kind of the best of both worlds.
65 is 700 bucks right now at Amazon and these things are again, the picture quality is really right up there with some of the better, familiar brands if not better than them at the same price.
So Vizio is in that same category of really really good picture quality for the money.
But they're smart TV system isn't as good so you don't have that ease.
Generally Vizio I recommend just buying a Roku and plugging it into it.
Again, there's there's a lot of good options out there among the various brands but having that smart TV integration is super convenient.
I'll get into one other thing you mentioned too, which was.
Apple TV, which now has Apple arcade integrated as well.
So for a very reasonable price, five bucks a month, right?
You can have your whole family being able to play video games, you know, over 100 games, and you can play obviously, you know that remote a lot of people complain about you, you've defended it and said it's not as bad as But you can also get a controller for not very expensive and hook it up to that and it acts a lot like an Xbox or a PlayStation controller and all of a sudden you have access to a ton of games.
That's a lot of entertainment for pretty low cost even though the box itself.
Costs more for sure.
Yeah, I mean it you can use an Xbox or ps4 controller with the Apple TV which is great.
If you have that already, but Apple arcade people don't expect it to be as good as like a Nintendo Switch.
Or an Xbox.
These are casual games that, as you can.
Jason, they're generally designed for Apple's mobile devices.
And when they blow up to the big screen, they're fun and they work but sometimes they can be a little bit disappointing compared to the other big screen consoles.
I mean, people are playing the heck out of Nintendo Switch right now.
For example, if you can get one.
And you know the in general gaming has exploded just along with all other home entertainment.
But yeah, Apple arcade is a great you know, a budget alternative and especially if you're already subscribed for the gaming stuff, the fact that you can just fire up your Apple TV and put it on the big screen.
Is really cool.
And since you can't go to a theatre or a you know, right now or other entertainment venues in most cases and probably won't for a little while at least, you and your team have also said that one of the best things you can do to upgrade your home theatre at home and make it sound a little more, Like, go into the theater or feel a little more like going to the theater, is actually a decent soundbar, people are often surprised what a difference that can make for less where you're not buying a whole new TV.
Just buying one of those add on.
So want to talk a little bit about that with sound bars and any recommendations that the team has there.
Our best soundbar for the money is a Vizio it's crazy model number.
It's the sb 3261 and eight You can just google best soundbar CNET you'll see it at the top of the list.
That's the easiest thing to remember.
But this thing's 130 bucks right now at Walmart.
It includes a subwoofer which sets it apart from a lot of other things at that price because you get that home theater kick from having the extra bass.
It looks it's a really nice looking bar.
So again a great upgrade for really inexpensive.
There's bars under 100 there's bars that have Alexa built in which is pretty cool.
You can ask for it to play music, just like an Alexa But hey, it actually sounds good.
From your soundbar and there's even sound bars that have you know, high end features like Dolby Atmos, another Vizio that we really like got our Editor's Choice there that includes the surround sound speakers in addition to the subwoofer, and then there's just smaller, more convenient models like a Sonos beam.
For example, A little bit more expensive but it's smaller and more compact.
And it works with you know, Google Assistant and Amazon again as well as Sonos is great, multi room system.
So a lot of people are upgrading, you know, their audio all around their house and taking advantage of devices like that.
So there's a full range there and you know, we round them up and review them all the time here.
It's CNET with the best soundbars list.
So if you're gonna watch like the Avengers or Star Trek Picard or something like that, this is gonna give you a really little bit more of a kind of theater experience at home for not a ton of money to upgrade.
So that's one of the reasons you will often mentioned that to people who are wanting to upgrade, yeah.
Yeah, it's an inexpensive upgrade and You know the difference between a soundbar and what comes out of your TV speakers is night and day.
I mean, it's such a huge difference that once you start listening to your soundbar you're never want to he's never going to want to go back.
The other one I'd like to mention real quick, since we're talking about Roku before, is Roku actually has a soundbar too.
And it includes all of that streaming and 4k and everything inside the soundbar.
So it's designed kind of as a one stop upgrade for any TV and you buy the soundbar you get the streamer, you know, kind of build Built into it and you plug that into your TV's HDMI and you get, you know, obviously that great streaming, streaming experience Plus, you know, vastly improved audio.
So that's a pretty cool product right?
Before we go, last question.
Despite the economic downturn and everything that's happening in the world, there's still some innovation that's happening in this category.
What are some of the most interesting things to look forward to in the future of Home Entertainment are the stuff that you think people are going to, be really interested in sort of the months years, kind of ahead.
Two big things and I'll start with free because that's the thing in streaming that I've seen the biggest interest in recently, and again it has a lot to do with the economic downturn but you see a lot of services embracing ad supported free.
For example, peacock just launched from NBC, they have a free tier and Ton of great shows, again, if you're willing to sit through the ads, there's a lot of services now, they're just increasing in popularity.
Pluto TV, super popular for free, Plex is adding free, Roku channel's adding free, so a lot of people really want, and some pretty decent content on there.
So again, if you wanna.
Cut your cable bill entirely and you're done, you know kind of paging through YouTube indefinitely.
You can turn to one of these services and get, you know, some pretty decent especially news content.
There's even live sports on some of these things if you're willing to sit through the ads.
So I think that's just going to increase in popularity services like HBO, Max have already announced that they're going to have a free tier.
Next year, and you're just gonna see a lot more content out there for streaming with ads just like TV used to be, but if you can do that if you can watch an ad or two it's pretty cool to be able to get all that extra content.
But there's also just some really cool future things happening.
In the near future, we're going to see these new game consoles.
The Xbox series x and the PS five coming out later this year.
I think that's going to lead to some innovation, especially on the gaming side for TVs.
So you know, for example, these boxes, they'll work with an 8k TV, you might not be able to see it that much.
But you know, the next gen high frame rate, content is also gonna improve gaming.
There's a lot of innovation right now is Is built around gaming and the fact that these consoles can do so much more and look so much better.
And as usual with consoles, they're just going to get better.
The games are just going to get better and drive innovation.
The first gen might not take full advantage of it, but games later down, the pike will and you know, that's going to drive people to want to get
New better TV something that can handle all that extra horsepower so I'm not necessarily saying 8k is gonna you know take off as a result of this but I think 8k TVs are coming no matter what because they're relatively inexpensive and people are going to buy them in the end people like Samsung are already building in their best features into their 8k TVs.
So Just like with 4k, those are going to become the default despite the fact that there's not all that much 4k content out there.
It's gonna be the same with 8k.
So Dave, you've talked a lot about streaming it is one of those exciting things happening.
You launched a recently a place on CNET where people can find a lot of that stuff.
Why don't you mention that?
Before we finish up.
Yeah, so we cover tons and tons of stuff at streaming from what to watch devices to buy new news about all these new services coming out comparisons, reviews, you name it.
It's a place called streaming TV Insider.
So if you Google that, you'll find it.
Cnet's new hub for all of these different, streaming articles, reviews videos, we've done some some great videos netpicks figuring out again, what to watch and kind of guiding people through it.
The streaming process and you know, it starts with saving money.
So I think that's one of the coolest things about streaming is we're focusing on saving money, how to cut the cable, TV cord, things like that.
Those are all available at streaming TV inside.
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