Posted Fri Nov 21, 2014 at 06:30 PM PST by Steven Cohen
Well, it's that time of year again. You know, the season to be jolly… and endure weeks of unrelenting cold with your loved ones! And for home theater enthusiasts like us, nothing could make us jollier -- or warmer -- than all of the latest and greatest HD gear and gadgets powered up in our living rooms. Forget the fire place, the holiday's real best source for heat is a brand new shiny 60-inch TV.
But just what gear items are really worth your hard earned money? With so many great TV, audio, tablet, and streaming player options out there, figuring out exactly what gift to buy your HD-loving family and friends can be a very daunting task. Thankfully, we here at High-Def Digest have got you covered with the ultimate list of worthy gear gifts. That's right, you'll find no naughty items here!
So, without further ado, here's our 2014 gear gift guide, filled with all of the year's top home theater products and gadgets. From Ultra HD TVs to streaming sticks, we've got every resolution, dongle, app, and budget accounted for (all prices reflect Amazon's prices at press time).
2014 has been quite a year for the television industry. In the last 12 months we've witnessed the continued growth of the 4K market, a push for curved-screens, the sad demise of plasma, and the slow emergence of OLED panels. But with all of these competing brands and technologies, a few specific models have managed to rise to the top when it comes to quality and affordability.
VIZIO E-Series & M-Series 1080p TVs
Though once known mainly for their cheap prices, VIZIO has stepped up their game considerably when it comes to performance, becoming one of the top bang-for-your-buck TV brands on the market. With their focus on picture quality, the company's latest 1080p LCD sets have been getting great reviews. Both the E-Series and M-Series offer smart TV options and full-array local dimming with up to 36 active zones for superior black levels. With that said, neither model includes 3D support.
VIZIO E500i-B1 50-Inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV – Currently $548
VIZIO E550i-B2 55-Inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV – Currently $648
VIZIO E600i-B3 60-Inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV – Currently $798
VIZIO M552i-B2 55-Inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV – Currently $798
VIZIO M602i-B3 60-Inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV – Currently $1,148
Samsung PNF8500 Plasma 1080p TVs
Following in Pioneer and Panasonic's footsteps, Samsung recently announced that they will be terminating plasma panel production. While this is rather devastating news for home theater enthusiasts, on the bright side, the company's highly rated PNF8500 plasma series is still available… for now. With their inky blacks, fantastic off-angle viewing, exceptional bright room performance, smart TV functions, and 3D support, these sets remain some of the best TVs on the market. Though Amazon is currently out of stock of the 51-inch and 60-inch models, Best Buy is running great holiday sales on their remaining inventory. Get them quick while they're still around!
Samsung - 51" Plasma HDTV - $999.98
Samsung - 60" Plasma HDTV - $1,499.98
Samsung 64" Plasma HDTV - $2,647.99
LG OLED 1080p TVs
With the death of plasma, the industry is now looking toward new display technologies -- and OLED just might be the next big thing. While the promising tech has had a slow and pricey start, LG remains committed to OLED production and has churned out some stellar 1080p models. Combining many of the benefits of LCDs and plasmas with few of their drawbacks, these TVs offers some of the best picture quality performance available. With that said, they're still quite expensive, there are some minor issues with video processing, and there are still some questions about the longevity of OLED panels.
LG 55EC930 55-inch Curved Screen OLED TV – Currently $3,499
55EA9800 55-inch Curved Screen OLED TV - Currently $3,349
55EA8800 55-inch Flat Screen OLED TV - Currently $3,999
Samsung 8550 Ultra HD TVs
Now that 4K content is finally becoming more and more prevalent -- particularly on Samsung models -- Ultra HD TVs are starting to become more and more attractive. Samsung's 8550 series ranks among the best when it comes to the essentials, offering very solid accuracy and strong black levels for an edge-lit local dimming LED. Likewise, it doesn't feature a curved screen which can be a point of contention among some buyers, and it does include 3D support. With a growing number of 4K streaming and on-demand services currently available or on the way -- including, Netflix, Amazon, DirecTV, and M-GO -- Samsung is looking like the top player to beat in the 4K market. Customers looking for a Samsung 4K set should also check out Amazon's special Black Friday Pre-Order Deals for models as low as $598!
Samsung UN50HU8550 50-Inch 4K Ultra HD TV - Currently $1,597.99
Samsung UN55HU8550 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD TV - Currently $1,797.99
VIZIO P-Series Ultra HD TVs
Similar to its HD E-Series and M-Series siblings, the VIZIO P-Series offers a rather amazing bang-for-your-buck 4K experience. Marked by full-array local dimming with up to 72 active zones, these sets provide fantastic black levels and uniformity along with an Ultra HD resolution of 3840 X 2160 -- all for incredibly affordable prices. Likewise, the TVs include HEVC H.265 decoding for integrated 4K streaming through services like Netflix. Unfortunately, early reviews have indicated some issues with the model's video processing, resulting in some artifacts and unnecessary sharpening, and like the rest of VIZIO's 2014 lineup, there is no 3D support. Still, considering their price, the P-Series remains a very attractive buy and VIZIO is working on a firmware update to correct the TV's processing problems.
VIZIO P502ui-B1 50-Inch 4K Ultra HD TV – Currently $999.99
VIZIO P552ui-B2 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD TV - Currently $1,349
VIZIO P602ui-B3 60-Inch 4K Ultra HD TV - Currently $1,499
Is 60-inches just not big enough for you? Well, I don't blame you! For a true home theater experience, projectors are really where it's at. Thankfully, there are several worthy 1080p models out there -- and even a ridiculously expensive short throw 4K model for you especially lucky readers with the cash to spare.
BenQ HT-series HT1075 Full HD Projector – ($846.78) 1080p, 100" picture at under 8ft, 3D support, 2,200 ANSI Lumens, 10,000:1 High Contrast Ratio, built-in 10W speaker.
BenQ HT-Series HT1085ST Full HD Short Throw Projector – ($986.60) 1080p, 100" picture at under 5ft, 3D support, 2,200 ANSI Lumens, 10,000:1 High Contrast Ratio, built-in 10W speaker.
Epson 5030UB 2D/3D 1080p 3LCD Projector - ($2,299) 1080p, 3D support, 2400 lumens, Up to 600,000:1 contrast ratio, THX certified.
Sony LSPX-W1S 4K Ultra Short Throw Projector - ($50,000) 4096 x 2160, 3D support, 147-inch 4K image and sits just seven inches from your wall.
The audio market has also seen some great new products released throughout 2014 -- many spearheaded by the arrival of Dolby Atmos. The object-based mixing platform recently launched in home theaters and promises to offer a new level of immersion. That is, for a price. Still, there are some great Atmos products available for solid prices, along with many gift-worthy standard soundbars systems.
Though they can be a bit on the expensive side, buyers looking for a new receiver this holiday season will likely want to go ahead and invest in an Atmos-supported device. The current crop of Atmos AVRs offer support for a variety of set-ups, starting at a 5.1.2 speaker arrangement and going on up to a 9.1.2 configuration. Here's a rundown of some of the more inexpensive models along with a few pricier but more feature-intensive options.
TX-NR636 - ($599) 7.2 Channel A/V Receiver with Atmos support for a 5.1.2 speaker configuration.
TX-NR737 - ($899) 7.2 Channel A/V Receiver with Atmos support for a 5.1.2 speaker configuration.
TX-NR1030 - ($1,599) 9.2 Channel A/V Receiver with integrated Atmos support for 5.1.2, 5.1.4, and 7.1.2 setups.
TX-NR3030 ($2,299) 11.2 Channel A/V Receiver with integrated Atmos support for 5.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1.2, 7.1.4, and 9.1.2 setups.
Pioneer Elite SC-85 - ($1,599) 9.2 Channel A/V Receiver with Atmos support for 5.1.2, 5.1.4, and 7.1.2 setups.
Denon X4100W - ($1,499) 7.2 Channel A/V Receiver with integrated Atmos support for a 5.1.2 speaker configuration. A separate two-channel amplifier can also be added to provide support for 5.1.4 or 7.1.2 Atmos configurations. Auro-3D audio support through $199 firmware download.
Denon X5200W - ($1,999) 9.2 Channel A/V Receiver with integrated Atmos support for 5.1.2, 5.1.4, and 7.1.2 Atmos setups. A separate two-channel amplifier can be added to provide 7.1.4 and 9.1.2 Atmos options as well. Auro-3D audio support through $199 firmware download.
Speakers & Modules
One of the main benefits of Atmos in the home, is the addition of overhead effects to the soundstage. In order to achieve this, customers can buy speakers to mount to their ceilings or get specially designed Atmos-enabled floor-standing and bookshelf speakers. These special models include an extra top driver that can bounce sound off of the ceiling to simulate overhead effects. Likewise, users can also opt to purchase an Atmos module that can be placed on top of existing speakers in order to achieve the same effect. If you're looking to build an Atmos system for the holidays but don't have the room for ceiling mounted speakers, these are a few models you should keep in mind.
Elite SP-EBS73-LR Bookshelf Speakers - ($749 for a pair) Features an additional driver mounted on top to simulate overhead sound effects.
Elite SP-EFS73 Floorstanding Speakers - ($699 each) Features an additional driver mounted on top to simulate overhead sound effects.
Onkyo SKH-410 Atmos Module - ($149 for a pair) Sits on top of your floorstanding front speakers or on an entertainment unit, adding overhead sound to a user's Dolby Atmos home theater.
Home Theater Systems
For those looking for a cheap and simple way to upgrade to Atmos this holiday season, Onkyo has two Atmos capable systems on the market for very reasonable prices. With that said, both systems only support the basic 5.1.2 Atmos configuration, and like most home-theater-in-a-box offerings, they can't compete with higher-priced premium speakers and receivers when it comes to audio quality. Still, for the price and convenience, this is an attractive and easy way for customers to take advantage of Dolby Atmos.
Onkyo HT-S7700 - ($799) 5.1.2-Channel Dolby Atmos Ready Network A/V Receiver/Speaker Package with Atmos-enabled speakers.
Onkyo HT-S9700THX - ($1,199) 5.1.2-Channel Dolby Atmos Ready Network A/V Receiver/Speaker Package with included front height speakers.
Don't have the space or cash for a full 5.1 system or fancy new Atmos setup? Well then, a soundbar designed to sit right in front of your TV could be the perfect gift for you. There's lots of great single unit and even multiple speaker soundbar systems available now, including strong offerings from VIZIO and Pioneer.
VIZIO S5451w-C2 54" 5.1 Sound Bar System - ($442.95) 54-inch soundbar unit with wireless subwoofer and separate satellite speakers.
Pioneer SP-SB23W Andrew Jones Soundbar System - ($396.99) 36-inch soundbar unit with 4 x 3" Structured Surface Mid-Woofers, 2 x 1" Soft Dome Tweeters, 6 x 28 Watt Amplifiers, and a wireless subwoofer.
Smart Blu-ray players, streaming set-top boxes, dongles, and tablets have all become popular ways to play media content from a variety of sources. With several worthy options from the likes of Samsung, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Roku, here's a few solid gift suggestions.
Blu-ray Disc Players
While separate streaming players are becoming more and more prevalent, a reliable Blu-ray player is still an essential piece of any complete home theater system. The Samsung D-H6500 currently offers some of the fastest loading times on the market, a robust collection of streaming services and apps, 3D support, and 4K upscaling -- making it one of the best performing models available for its price.
Samsung BD-H6500 3D Smart Blu-ray Disc Player - Currently $137.99.
Streaming Set-Top Boxes
There are many worthy contenders in this category, with each device offering a slightly different collection of apps and features. By most accounts, the Roku 3 is the still the best all around-streaming player when it comes to performance and content. With that said, the Apple TV remains a solid device and Amazon's Fire TV continues to improve with new apps, expanded support for its voice search feature, and gaming options.
Roku 3 - Currently $84.99.
Apple TV - Currently $92.
For an even more simple, cheap, and space-saving way to access streaming content on your TV, buyers should also consider a streaming dongle. These sticks plug right into a TV's HDMI port (but also require an extra power source), offering numerous apps and services. Early word on the Fire TV Stick has been very positive, and Amazon's dongle provides seamless access to Prime Instant Video, several third party apps, and voice search through an Android smartphone app or add on remote. Meanwhile, the cheaper Google Chromecast works a little differently. Instead of having apps directly on the device, it allows users to "cast" content and services from their mobile devices, laptops, and PCs through the stick to their TVs. Finally, even though it is the most expensive option, when it comes to overall app support and performance, Roku's stick is still considered the most robust streaming dongle on the market.
Fire TV Stick - Currently $39 (will be in stock on January 15).
Chromecast - Currently $32.18
Roku Streaming Stick - Currently $49
Serving as portable multimedia hubs capable of HD video, music, books, internet, and games -- tablets are becoming essential tools for entertainment on the go. And with their mirroring and second screen features, the devices are also becoming integral additions to the home theater environment, expanding the traditional movie watching experience. Here's a rundown of some of the top tablet models available now.
Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 16GB Tablet - ($379) 8.9-inch IPS screen with a resolution of 2560x1600, 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 805 processor, 2GB of RAM, 720p front facing camera, 8MP rear camera, Dolby Atmos mobile support. Check our full review!
Apple iPad Air 2 16 GB Tablet - ($490) 9.7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 2048x1536, A8X chip with 64‑bit architecture and an M8 motion coprocessor, 8MP iSight camera, 1.2MP FaceTime camera
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 16GB Tablet - ($377.32) 8.4-inch Super AMOLED screen with a resolution of 2560x1600, 1.9 GHz Exynos 5 Octa Processor, 3GB of RAM, 8MP rear camera, 2.1MP front camera.
Google Nexus 9 16GB Tablet ($399.99) - 8.9-inch IPS Screen with a resolution of 2048x1536, NVIDIA Tegra K1 2.3 GHz Processor, 2GB of RAM, 1.6MP Front Camera, 8MP Rear Camera, Android 5.0.
So, there you have it. Those are our top gear gift suggestions for 2014. We hope this guide helps out in your holiday shopping endeavors. For now, though, what do you think of our gift choices? Do you have any other gear suggestions for the holiday season? And be sure to check out High-Def Digest every day throughout the next few weeks for all of the latest Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals!
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