Well, it's that time of the year again—and we don't just mean football season, though that's true, too. No, it's holiday shopping season, when Black Fridays are followed by Cyber Mondays and all manner of bargains abound. This is where we start thinking about what sort of cool goodies we can gift our loved ones, or—just as good—ourselves.
To help you along and get the juices flowing, we're sharing a few items below that could very well make their way to your short list. All are targeted at projection and home theater enthusiasts; they include a variety of attractive budget-priced projectors, screens, home theater audio products, and accessories. And if you just happen to print out our list and "accidentally" leave it someplace where your significant other or rich benefactor can stumble onto it—well, we won't rat you out. Happy shopping!
Optoma UHL55 4K DLP Projector
Street Price: $999
The Optoma UHL55 (review here) is among a growing class of LED lifestyle projectors that deliver 4K resolution for games and movies in a compact, transportable package. Like some others in the category, it combines effective auto-focus, auto-keystone, and a short-throw lens for quick and easy setup in your family room, backyard, or vacation spot. There's Wi-Fi enabled on-board streaming, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, Full 3D playback, and a pair of stereo speakers that double as a Bluetooth audio system for music from your mobile device. We especially like the street price, currently at $999, which makes this one of the more affordable 4K projectors out there.
Vizio SB36514-G6 Dolby Atmos Soundbar
Street Price: $699
For several years running, Vizio has earned accolades for its high-value soundbars, but the brand took that into the stratosphere in the last couple of years with Dolby Atmos models that sound great and came in well below the competition on price. If you're not already indulging in Atmos soundtracks and the growing body of Atmos music releases—with their spherical surround-sound bubble aided by two or four height speakers—you're missing one of the true joys of home theater. The Vizio SB36514-G6 uses a relatively small 36-inch bar up front that also throws a pair of front height channels for reflection off the ceiling, while the rear surrounds each include an extra up-firing driver that does the same for the rear height channels. The wireless subwoofer is rated down to 40 Hz and also contains the amplifiers to drive the rear satellites. (A step-down model, the SB36512-G6, skips the rear Atmos drivers to deliver Atmos for smaller rooms at just $499.) And I haven't even mentioned the Google-based SmartCast system that lets you cast music to other rooms with Google Home speakers and issue voice commands using Google Assistant. You can get better performance putting together a discrete surround sound system (see our recommendations for A/V receivers and speakers elsewhere in this guide), but not for the this money. Whether you're looking for your first surround-sound system or upgrading from a non-Atmos model, Vizio's soundbars should leave you patting yourself on the back for your wise and cost-effective purchase.
SVS SB-3000 and PB3000 Powered Subwoofers
Price: $999 (SB-3000), $1399 (PB-3000)
SVS offers powered subs at its direct-to-consumer website that range in price from $499 to $2,499, and there's not one among them that doesn't deliver more, or way more, than its price would suggest. But the company's new 3000 series subwoofers, based on a combination of trickle-down tech from its top-line Ultra series and some fresh break-throughs, brings a stupendous amount of deep bass output to relatively small cabinets in a manner that seems to defy the laws of physics. How deep? How about 15 Hz of usable output in the sealed SB-3000 or 14 Hz from the ported PB-3000. Both feature an advanced 13-inch driver and Sledge amplifier rated at 800 watt RMS and 2,500+ watts peak power. The SB-13, in particular, measures only about 15 inches cubed and weighs just 54.5 pounds, which is surprisingly unobtrusive and light for such a powerful subwoofer. And to ensure you get the most from the 3000 series, SVS has a companion app that connects to the sub via Bluetooth and allows fine-tuning of a range of set-up parameters, along with on-the-fly volume and EQ adjustments. If you've already got a good sound system but really want to bring alive the LFE-channel effects from your soundtracks, these new subs are a superb upgrade. And if you're not sure, well, SVS offers a 45-day risk-free in-home trial.
ViewSonic LS700-4K 4K DLP Laser Projector
Street Price: $2,199
The ViewSonic LS700-4K is the least expensive UHD (3840x2160) home theater projector we've yet seen with a long-life, 20,000-hour laser light engine. At 3,300 lumens it's a perfect choice for high ambient light viewing as well as dark-room theater environments, and it offers HDR support with Rec.709 color gamut. Also on board are Full 3D compatibility, and a reduced input-lag setting for gaming. A 1.3x zoom allows for flexibile installation, and at just under 16 pounds, the projector is portable enough to be toted to the backyard or into a conference room for an impromptu installation. We're awaiting a review sample to fully assess its performance, but its combination of features and value made it one of our Infocomm 2019 Best of Show Award winners, and with ViewSonic's excellent track record we're expecting good things from the LS700-4K.
Harmony Express Universal Remote Control
The Logitech Harmony activity-based universal remotes have dominated their category through the years and earned many accolades. The basic Harmony Companion ($129) is highly recommendable for simple systems, as is the top-line Harmony Elite ($349) for more sophisticated installations with a wide range of sources and smarthome devices. The newest Harmony, highlighted here, is the Harmony Express, a universal voice-activated remote with Amazon Alexa built in and hardly any buttons at all on the little mini wand. Once you program it, you can use the remote's microphone to trigger a variety of system commands such as "Turn on the projector," "Go to channel 201," "Go to ESPN," or "Go to Netflix." Or, if you've got an Alexa-enabled speaker in the room, you can just ask Alexa to launch your programmed activities. Best of all: a mobile Remote Finder phone app allows you to trigger an audible alert from the remote when your toddler tosses it in the toy box.
BenQ TK850 4K DLP Projector
Street Price: $1,699
BenQ upped its game earlier this year with the release of the HT3550, which greatly improved on the already excellent picture quality of its HT2550 predecessor with better out-of-box color, wider color gamut (95% DCI-P3) and more advanced HDR tone-mapping. Due out this month at the same $1,699 price is its new sister model, the BenQ TK850. An update of the TK800, it's essentially the same projector as the HT3550 with a different color wheel to acheive 1,000 extra lumens of rated output—3,000 in total—for punchy family room viewing with the lights on or better backyard movie-watching. You give up a touch of color gamut (80% DCI-P3) to gain a ton of extra utility. A pair of good-sounding on-board stereo speakers and the same relatively short-throw lens found on the 3550 ease set-up for temporary installations of this compact and easily transported projector.
Yamaha RX-V685 and Pioneer VSX-LX504 A/V Receivers
Street Price: $549 (Yamaha), $999 (Pioneer)
If you've been living with a middling surround-sound system in your home theater, or none at all, maybe this is the year to step it up—hopefully before all the holiday guests arrive. These two A/V receivers offer exceptional value and performance in their respective product classes. The Yamaha RX-V685 is a 7.1-channel AVR that can run a classic 5.1-channel main system along with a pair of upfiring or ceiling-mounted height speakers required by the newer immersive audio formats, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. The Pioneer VSX-LX504 is a 9.1-channel model that runs a full 5.1.4 system with both front and rear height speakers, and also adds decoding for the latest Imax Enhanced soundtracks. Both, of course, will pass 4K/HDR signals to your new 4K projector (hint!). For speakers, you might do well to start from scratch with one of the high-value, budget brands such as SVS, RSL, or Emotiva (see below), or just add a pair or two of Atmos reflecting or ceiling-mounted speakers to your existing 5.1 kit.
ViewSonic M1 Mini Ultra-Portable DLP LED Projector
Street Price: $169
You don't normally think about a projector as a stocking-stuffer, but this new super-cute, super-compact from ViewSonic qualifies in both size and affordability. Measuring only 4 x 4 x 1 inches and weighing less than a pound, the M1 Mini is rated for 120 LED lumens of brightness (50 ANSI lumens) from its 30,000-hour, RGB LED light engine. Resolution is WVGA (854 x 480 pixels), and the projector accepts signals up to 1080p—including Full 3D. Its fixed lens offers a 1.2 throw ratio for images of 24 to 100 inches (auto keystone correction is applied). The built-in battery runs up to 2.5 hours on a single charge; you can also connect a battery power bank or phone charger as needed. Signals come in via HDMI or a USB media port. Audio is provided via a JBL-branded mini speaker. ViewSonic borrowed the "Smart Stand" design introduced in its popular M1 pico projector, so the swiveling stand doubles as a lens cover. Then there's the swap-able top panels to personalize the case in either gray, teal, or yellow, and the little credit card remote that's included in the package. The M1 Mini is neither the brightest portable projector out there, nor the highest resolution. But it is certainly one of the smallest, and if you or your millenial love the idea of having a projector in your pocket wherever you go to share photos or stream an improptu serial, you can't get much cooler—or inexpensive—than this.
Elite Yard Master 2 Outdoor Projection Screen
Street Price: $129 (90-inch) to $277 (135-inch)
If you own or plan to buy a projector that's small and light enough to move around, Elite's popular Yard Master 2 series indoor/outdoor screen is the perfect complement to bring the joy of home theater outdoors to the backyard or your family vacation spot. Available in 16:9 aspect ratio at 90-, 110-, 120-, and 135-inch diagonal sizes, the Yard Master2 features Elite's 1.1 gain CineWhite material with a black border, and goes up in a jiffy with no tools required (see video below). Afterward, just put it back in its soft-padded carry bag for storage. Options include rear projection materials, and extra-long extension legs to raise the height where that's desired.
Epson Home Cinema 4010 4K PRO-UHD 3LCD Projector
The Epson Home Cinema 4010 remains one of the best values among under-$2,000 home theater projectors. Although Epson's "4K PRO-UHD" technology actually uses pixel-shifted native 1080p imagers to deliver something less than the full UHD pixel-count to the screen, the combination of sophisticated processing along with a large, sharp, motorized lens that has no business being on such an inexpensive projector actually delivers detail that is the equal or better of most full 4K projectors at normal viewing distance. Superb out-of-box color and well-tuned HDR, along with 2,200 lumens brightness and 200,000:1 dynamic contrast, make it a great choice for serious dark-room theater viewing.
Emotiva AirMotiv Home Theater Speakers
Price: 5.1 systems starting at $1,355
Elsewhere in this guide we recommend a couple of starter A/V receivers that could bring the magic of immersive sound to your home theater. If you're entertaining the building of a new surround-sound system with one of these or are just ready for a loudspeaker refresh, Emotiva—a direct-to-consumer manufacturer that specializes in high-end audio designs and performance at affordable prices—just released an update to its line of Airmotiv music/home theater speakers. A hallmark design feature is use of a folded ribbon tweeter that delivers exquisite imaging and transient response and is carried throughout the line to insure perfect mating among models and a highly cohesive surround soundstage. The little B1 2-way bookshelf speaker, now the B1+ ($229/pair), makes a great satellite for the four corners of a basic 5.1 theater system. Add the new C1+ 3-way center channel ($399) and the 10-inch S10 subwoofer ($499) and you're up and running. The company's first Atmos/DTS:X height speaker, the A1 Airspace ($299/pair), is suitable for ceiling bounce placement or mounted high on the wall; just flip the appropriate switches for the right optimization. Emotiva also updated its popular and well-reviewed tower speakers in the new T2+ and T1+.
Rayva Turnkey Home Theaters
Price: Starting around $55,000
Okay, this qualifies as the ultimate holiday gift to give yourself and your family. Rayva is the brainchild of Theo Kalomirakis, the renowned "Father of Home Theater" whose gorgeous classic-to-exotic celebrity home theater designs fill two coffee-table books. Rayva offers a fixed number of pre-defined dedicated theater designs that feature large fabric panels, attached by a proprietary magnetic rail system, that can hide speakers and treat room acoustics while also covering the cables that might otherwise need to be snaked through walls. Rayva's online configurator allows you to select your approximate room size and seating (as small as 16 x 13 feet), then choose an video/audio package from Rayva's respected equipment partners that ranges from excellent to mind-blowing. The configurator then spits out your quoted room price—fully installed by one of Rayva's integrator partners. If you've got a spare bedroom or basement and have dreamed about having a high-performance dedicated theater like the ones you lust over in magazines or online, Rayva makes getting it about as simple and straightforward as can be.