This winter, the holidays aren’t the only cause for celebration in my home—it’s also the one-year anniversary of me getting a new TV. Exciting, isn’t it?
To commemorate this joyous occasion, I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned and the gadgets I’ve bought in order to get the most out of my new TV over the last twelve months. It’s the type of guide I wish someone had shared with me this time last year—as it turns out, not everything a salesperson throws at you is worth spending money on.
If you’re still on the hunt for a new TV, be sure to check out our up-to-date list of the best TVs right now and the best TVs under $500.
1. A strip of LEDs that will make your picture pop and your eyes feel at ease
Believe it or not, the best TV accessory I purchased this year was nothing more than a simple adhesive strip of LED lights and a remote control dimmer to control them.
Here’s the gist: Bias lights stick to the back of a TV and help improve the picture’s contrast by splashing the wall behind the panel with warm, soothing light. Not only do they help your TV look better, they also reduce eye strain if you’re settling in for a long movie, a Netflix binge-watching session, or hours of competitive gaming. Best of all? The lights, USB switch, and remote control will probably only set you back about $65 (depending on the length of the strip).
To get the full story, check out my guide to buying and installing bias lights. Be sure to get a long enough strip of lights to cover the entire back panel of your TV.
Buy the Luminoodle bias LED strip for $49.99 via Amazon
Buy the Luminoodle USB switch, dimmer, and remote control for $12.99 on Amazon
2. A soundbar that sounds better than your TV’s speakers
To paraphrase my colleague and TV expert, Lee, every TV—from budget buys to fancy flagships—has one thing in common: crummy built-in speakers.
You might suspect that there’s nothing to be done about this on a budget—that all external sound systems are inherently premium purchases. Well, dear reader, I’m here to tell you that there’s another way: affordable soundbars.
Aside from my bias lights, there’s no TV-related peripheral that’s been more effective in transforming my living room from a room with a TV to a full-fledged home theater. Even budget-friendly, mid-range soundbars represent a potentially huge upgrade to your living room. That’s part of the reason we put together an exhaustive, hands-on round-up of the best soundbars for under $250.
Our current favorite is the Razer Leviathan, thanks to its powerful subwoofer, sleek design, and 5.1-channel support. At less than $200, it’s a reasonable, low-risk investment that is poised to pay off considerably over time.
If you don’t like the look of it, there are plenty of other soundbars on sale that give the Razer a run for its money.
Buy the Razer Leviathan soundbar for $186.99 on Amazon
3. Affordable HDMI cables that aren’t a rip-off
Despite what you may have heard from big-time tech companies trying to sell you gold-plated HDMI cables with posh braiding, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: When it comes to picture quality, pretty much all HDMI 2.0 cables are created equal.
I mean, sure—if you’re looking for HDMI cables that look or feel a certain way, by all means, follow your bliss. But if you’re stuck in the cable aisle at Best Buy and you’re struggling to find a difference between the cheap six-foot cable and the $30 six-foot cable, your best bet is to go for the cheaper of the two.
As a matter of fact, we put several of them to the test in our round-up of the best HDMI cables you can buy, and our favorite choice also happens to be the most affordable: a 2-pack of six-foot HDMI cables from AmazonBasics.
They’re not nylon-braided cables with gold-plated whatchamacallits, but they get the job done!
Buy a 2-pack of AmazonBasics HDMI 2.0 cables (6 feet) for $8.99 on Amazon
4. A cable box to organize and conceal that mess of wires behind your TV
Perhaps the quickest way to impose some semblance of order behind your TV stand is to conceal your cables. By keeping them out of sight, you’ll not only improve the look of your home theater, but also keep them away from the hands of children and the paws of pets.
For most people, we recommend something along the lines of the Bluelounge cable box. For about $30, this nifty little box can safely house most standard-sized power strips, keeping the connected power bricks and AC adapters concealed. It also comes in white, black, blue, and beige—perfect for color coordination.
Buy the Bluelounge cable box for $29.95 on Amazon
5. A streaming box that works better than your TV’s built-in smart platform
I’m gonna be honest with you: I love my new TV, but I can’t stand its built-in smart platform software. It’s buggy, sluggish, and feels like it was slapped together without much consideration. Even worse, software updates are few and far between, which adds a touch of hopelessness to the situation.
After deciding that enough was enough, I sprang for the newest Roku Ultra streaming box and never looked back. There’s just rarely a need for me to even glance at my TV’s smart platform anymore, and frankly, I couldn’t be happier.
The 2018 Roku Ultra is the best Roku device money can buy, and Roku is our favorite family of streaming devices, so, uh… you do the math. It supports 4K HDR streaming, includes a voice remote, and won’t take up a ton of room underneath your new TV. It’s also under $100.
If your TV’s smart software is dragging you down, you owe it to yourself to start streaming with a box.
Buy the 2018 Roku Ultra streaming box for $79.99 on Amazon
6. An indoor antenna so you can stream sports, news, and weird local channels
Currently, there are only a handful of streaming devices equipped with over-the-air receivers, so if you’re hoping to continue watching football every Sunday and local news at 11, consider an inexpensive, 30-mile indoor antenna. Our recommendation is the Mohu Leaf, despite its relatively low 3.6-out-of-5 rating on Amazon. The performance of TV antennae, as you can probably imagine, are naturally case-specific.
Depending on where you live, you may want to spring for an antenna with a higher radius. I recommend using the FCC’s official DTV reception tool. Just plug in your zip code and a summary of your area’s signal strength will appear.
Buy the Mohu Leaf indoor antenna (30-mile radius) for $27 on Amazon
7. A new way to play video games
I’ve got a confession to make: The last time I bought a video game console was 2006. It was an Xbox 360, and when I bought it, Charlton Heston was still alive, George W. Bush was the president, and Fox was still airing new episodes of The Simpsons for some reason.
But that changed this year when I decided to save up some scratch for Playstation 4. It was a sound investment—a device to not only rekindle my love for video games, but also to play Blu-rays (since I’m not at all ready to give up my inexplicable love for physical media).
If Sony’s Playstation game lineup doesn’t suit your taste, the Xbox One might be a better fit—it’ll play Blu-rays, too. Most folks’ll be satisfied with a standard Playstation 4 or an Xbox One S, but it’s important to remember that only the higher-end versions of each console—the Playstation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X—support 4K gaming. If your new TV features a 4K resolution (and chances are it does), you’ll have to invest in the more premium version of these consoles in order to experience certain games in all of their glory.
Buy the Playstation 4 Pro (supports 4K) for $399.99 on Amazon
Buy the Xbox One X (supports 4K) for $429 on Amazon
Buy the Playstation 4 (1TB, Spider-Man bundle) for $329 on Amazon
Buy the Xbox One S (1TB, Battlefield V bundle) for $249.99 on Amazon
8. A couple of real good-lookin’ Blu-rays to show off your new TV
All right, I’ll admit that this one is just an excuse for me to gush about some of my favorite Blu-rays. I told you I’m still in love with physical media. If you’re looking to show off your TV, I recommend Speed Racer and the BBC’s Planet Earth II series on 4K Blu-ray.
Don’t let its reputation fool you:_Speed Racer_ is a dazzling cinematic achievement full of colorful, psychedelic eye candy. And, although Planet Earth II might not be quite as groundbreaking as its predecessor, the production value is astonishing.
Buy Speed Racer on Blu-ray from Amazon for $8.47
Buy Planet Earth II on 4K Blu-ray from Amazon for $27.99
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