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The best gear for your living room home theater

Everything from a TV to a surge protector.

The Wirecutter
02.04.16 in AV
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By Grant Clauser

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer's guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

Everyone loves watching a great movie on a big screen with a kickass speaker system, but few would complain about losing the sticky floors, uncomfortable seats, and kids with smartphones (unless they're your own kids). We spent thousands of hours on research and testing to find the best-looking and -sounding home theater equipment to upgrade your living-room movie-watching experience from simply functional to highly enjoyable. (We have recommendations for a dedicated theater space as well in our full review).

TV

The Samsung UN55JU7100 offers the best overall picture for LCDs.

After more than 120 hours of research and testing, the 55-inch Samsung UN55JU7100 is our recommendation for the best overall TV. There are lots of very good LCD TVs for reasonable prices on the market today, but the JU7100 stood out with its excellent black levels, good colors out of the box, high contrast ratios, and video processing that improves the look of streaming video and doesn't turn moving images into a soap-opera-style mess. It's also a 4K Ultra HD display. Anything that looks better is going to cost a lot more money.

Flat-panel TV mount

The Sanus mount allows post-installation leveling, which lets you easily correct for minor errors you might make while drilling holes.

After researching TV mounts for 10 hours online and visiting local retailers to identify the best ones, we keep coming back to the Sanus VMPL50A-B1 flat-panel TV mount. It's easy to install, fully adjustable, and compatible with 22 different VESA patterns and TVs up to 70 inches and 150 pounds. While not exactly bargain-priced, it's less expensive than other mounts with similar feature sets and the features you'd miss out on by going cheaper are worth the cost.

Compact speakers for living room theaters

The Paradigm Cinema 100 CT 5.1 is good for smaller spaces and punches above its weight class.

If you want your living room to still look like a living room but sound like a home theater when you press play, the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT 5.1 Home Theater System is the package to buy. After nearly 20 hours of research and nearly 50 hours of calibration and testing, the Paradigm was the clear favorite in terms of performance. Though not as powerful as the NHT Absolute 5.1 Surround System, which we recommend if you have a dedicated theater room, the Paradigm's more compact footprint makes it a better choice for smaller rooms that aren't all about watching movies. The system—which includes five satellite speakers just taller than 8 inches high and a compact subwoofer 13 inches high—sounds much bigger than its size would suggest, and it also performed well in dialogue clarity. Don't forget that you'll also need a receiver and some speaker cable to drive the system.

Soundbar for living rooms

The Paradigm Soundscape offers the best audio quality you can expect from a soundbar.

For people who want the best TV audio out of a simple package with no receiver or additional speaker cables required, the Paradigm Soundscape is our pick for the best soundbar. It offers the best combination of audio performance and connectivity features—including Bluetooth—of any soundbar we tested. Although the Soundscape costs more than many receiver-and-speaker combinations, you'll get a very large and clear soundstage with good bass and crisp dialogue and vocals in return.

In testing, the Soundscape demonstrated a flatter frequency response than any soundbar we listened to, which contributes to the rich midrange of the speakers. The speaker's digital signal processing does a decent job filling the room for a surround-like experience, but it's not an artificial-sounding faux surround. It connects to your TV's optical audio output, rather than HDMI, but that isn't something we think most people will hold against it.

Streaming media player

The Roku 2 has the largest selection of streaming content for the money.

After researching and testing every major streaming media player, we think the Roku 2 is the best streaming media player for most people, with the largest content selection for the money and the most customization options. Few TVs, AV receivers, or Blu-ray players will offer near the number of streaming media services as an outboard box, especially the Roku 2, which currently features more than 2,500 channels plus the ability to access your own media stored on a computer or NAS drive. And it's easy to use: The menu is smartly organized, the remote includes only a few buttons, it has a universal search feature that's more universal than similar features on Apple TV or Amazon's Fire TV, and you can customize the interface to display your most-used channels at the top where you can easily access them.

Blu-ray player for most living rooms

The Sony BDP-S3500 (top) offers the best user interface and pixel-perfect Blu-ray playback.

After spending nearly 25 hours testing the best new Blu-ray players for 2015, we recommend the Sony BDP-S3500 for most living rooms. The Sony offers flawless disc playback, integrated Wi-Fi, and the most popular streaming apps (including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, MLB.TV, YouTube, and Pandora), plus an easier-to-use onscreen interface for operation than the other players we tested. It also leaves off features that most people don't really need or care about, such as 4K upconversion and 3D playback.

HD antenna

The Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse pulled in our target channels with high signal quality.

After testing 10 leading indoor TV antennas, we recommend the Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse as the best indoor antenna for most people who live within 20 miles of their broadcast towers. The Eclipse should give most urban and suburban TV viewers solid reception. In our new tests—which included reception locations both in a suburb of Philadelphia and within New York City—the ClearStream Eclipse pulled in all of our target channels easily. And its "Sure Grip" system lets you attach it to a wall without any hardware. The Eclipse is available in both amplified and non-amplified versions, and while we had good results with both, we think you should try the non-amplified version first and then add the amplifier if you can't get all the channels you're looking for.

Surge protector

The Tripp Lite stops power delivery once the protection wears out, so you know your electronics are protected as long as they're working.

One of the least fun (but potentially most important) devices for your home theater is the surge protector. We spent 30 hours testing leading models to determine that the Tripp Lite TLP1008TEL is the best surge protector for most people. It includes 10 well-spaced outlets (four big enough for large wall-warts), which should cover all but the most extreme home theater setups. It performed very well in our tests, plus it has a feature that makes a lot of sense—instead of telling you that the protection circuit is worn out with an indicator light, the Tripp Lite simply shuts off and won't deliver power.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendations, please go here.

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