How to get the most out of your smart TV
Smart TVs are everywhere -- in fact, it's nearly impossible to find a TV without built-in apps these days. So no matter what set you buy, you're sure to end up with a wide variety of video streaming options at your fingertips. But, with the right devices, your smart TV can do a lot more.
Whether you have a massive 4K TV (like our favorite, the $750 Sony KD55X750F), or a more modest HD TV (like the $150 TCL Roku TV), there's a lot you can do with it if you're willing to add a few key upgrades.
Adding components such as a streaming box (like the fan-favorite Apple TV 4K), a soundbar (like the Yamaha YAS-207BL), and a universal remote (like Logitech's Harmony Companion) can turn your smart TV into a multimedia powerhouse. Here are our favorite picks of everything you need to take your smart TV to the next level, and the best products in every category.
Pick the perfect streaming box
Your smart TV has plenty of streaming options built-in, but we recommend getting a separate streaming box anyway -- they're faster, more responsive, and usually include more apps that work with a wider set of content providers. Whether you love binging your favorite shows on Netflix or streaming your favorite gamers on Twitch, the best way to do it is with a streaming box.
For streaming in 4K: Although it's marketed as a game-streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield TV 4K also just happens to be the best, most capable streaming box on the market. It's incredibly affordable, and it supports cutting-edge video standards like High Dynamic Range (HDR) and audio innovations like Dolby Atmos. If you want the best visuals and audio that streaming video has to offer, the Shield TV 4K is far and away your best bet. (Although it's a very tight race with the Apple TV 4K. And if you have a lot of Apple products already, it's worth it to stay within that ecosystem.)
For streaming in 1080p HD: If you don't need to stream in 4K, you can save a ton of money by buying an HD streaming stick like the Roku Express for $26.99. You'll still get access to your streaming content in full 1080p HD, and you'll be able to take advantage of unique streaming stick features like private listening (which lets you plug in headphones to the remote so you can listen to your TV without bothering anyone else).
For traveling: If you're on the road a lot, your hotel rooms may or may not have smart TVs, so it's especially important to bring your own solution to enjoy your favorite movies and shows from anywhere. Our favorite: Amazon's Fire TV Stick. It streams content from just about anywhere, and it comes with Alexa built into the remote, so all you have to do is ask for what you want to watch.
Sign up for your favorite streaming services
Whether you buy a separate streaming box or use your smart TV's built-in apps, you're going to need subscriptions to access the best services. Skip the hassle of adding more monthly bills -- pay with gift cards instead.
For streaming movies and TV: The biggest streamer in the business is still the best: Netflix. If you're ready to get in on the fun of thousands of hours of original titles, pick up a Netflix gift card.
For streaming music: Our favorite streaming music service is Spotify because they've got such a comprehensive catalog and they offer a variety of sound quality options. You can get Spotify gift cards in multiple denominations.
For streaming cable TV: If you're looking to get the cable TV experience through your smart TV or streaming box, check out Sling TV. It offers streaming channel packages so you can tune into any major provider you want, and you can even customize your plan so you're only paying for the content you want.
Get a gaming console
Your smart TV comes with a few apps that are games, but they're usually not amazing (mostly because your TV's remote isn't a great controller). If you're into gaming, you'll need a proper gaming console for your smart TV.
For gaming with the family: The new Nintendo Switch Lite is the most affordable console around at $199.99, and it's the most family-friendly, too. The built-in touchscreen lets you use it as a portable gaming device, and it also comes with a dock so you can play it on your smart TV.
For 4K gaming: If you're a serious gamer, you need a console that can support gaming in 4K, and that means deciding between the Sony Playstation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X. Both models are the best each platform has to offer, so your decision should come down to the one you're more comfortable with.
Level-up your surround sound with a soundbar
Smart TVs are good at bringing the best video from the web to the big screen, but they don't usually sound amazing. In fact, most TV manufacturers these days are counting on users bringing their own sound solutions -- which is great because it means you get to pick the right audio for your home and your budget.
For apartments and smaller spaces: If you're outfitting a smaller TV room, Samsung's HW-R450 Soundbar is a just-right mix of features and price point. It has a wireless subwoofer, Bluetooth, and it even pairs with Samsung TVs so you don't need multiple remotes.
For medium-sized rooms: If you're looking to upgrade your smart TV audio in a bigger room or an open-concept area, check out LG's SL5Y 2.1 Channel High Resolution Sound Bar. It's a soundbar that focuses on audio quality, with support for high-resolution audio formats like DTS Virtual:X but still delivers simplicity with a 2.1 speaker layout.
For larger home theaters: VIZIO's SB36514-G6 soundbar surround sound system has a name only an engineer could love, but it delivers audio for everyone from casual viewers to audiophiles. It includes a soundbar, a wireless subwoofer, and two surround speakers -- which sound incredible together -- but what users like most is the support for Dolby Atmos.
Simplify life with a universal remote
As you connect devices to your smart TV, the remotes are going to pile up quickly. Plan ahead and pick up a universal remote so you can handle it all from one place.
For controlling your entire entertainment setup: If you've got multiple components hooked up to your smart TV, you can control them all using the Caavo Universal Remote and Smart Home Theater Hub. With their super-simple interface, seamless smart tech, and voice-controlled remote, all you have to do is say, "Play Stranger Things," and your Caavo will switch to the right device and get you straight to The Upside Down.
For controlling your smart home: If you're looking for a remote control for your smart TV, all the various boxes you have connected to it, and you want to also control your smart-home gear, there's no better way to do it than with the Harmony Elite. The Harmony works with everything from the Google Nest to Philips Hue Smart Lights, so you can control every aspect of your viewing experience down to the ambiance.
For low-budget scenarios: If you just need a basic universal remote and you don't want to spend a lot, stick with GE's Universal Remote. It's perfect for situations where you only need to control a handful of gadgets, and it's super durable, which makes it a popular option among families.
Jamie Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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