BEST MIDSIZE TV
Pro: High picture quality
Con: No built-in video
Best for: Most any living room
Retail price: $428
A midsize 37- to 42-inch HDTV is a great fit for most average living rooms — big enough to be viewed comfortably from a variety of angles without taking over the room. In this range you can do well spending as little as $400. And in that ballpark, check out the well-reviewed Samsung PN43E450.
Your two major decisions at this price point are display type (LCD or plasma) and resolution (720p or 1080p). Plasmas nearly always have a better contrast ratio, deeper blacks and a wider viewing angle than conventionally backlit LCDs. And per screen inch, plasmas are almost always cheaper, making the choice a relatively simple one. And for a TV of this size viewed at a normal distance, the difference in resolution between 720p and a more expensive 1080p set will be almost impossible to spot.
Those two criteria narrow the list considerably to one model each from the major manufacturers: Panasonic, LG and Samsung. All have similarly bare-bones feature sets (such as 2 HDMI inputs), and range from $412 to $510 on Amazon.com. However, the Samsung PN43E450 at $428 consistently gets better reviews, with higher marks for picture quality. Reviewers cite its well-rounded performance in black levels and shadow detail, as well as impressive color saturation. It was also found to draw less power than most plasma sets.
At this price level, bells and whistles like built-in video streaming services are nonexistent, but that’s easily remedied by taking the money saved and investing in a media streamer box like those offered by Roku. And it’s a win-win situation: Dedicated boxes almost always perform better than the apps built into HDTVs.
BEST BOOKSHELF SPEAKERS
Pro: Powerful sound reproduction
Con: None to speak of
Best for: Jaw-dropping performance at a modest price
Retail price: $112
If you’re seeking a fantastic pair of stereo speakers that perform as well as models costing three to four times as much, our research points you to the Pioneer SP-BS41-LR. Pioneer has tapped one of their legendary audio engineers, Andrew Jones, to design a $150 speaker with no compromises.
The Pioneers come with an impressive set of high-end features, including curved, radio-frequency-bonded cabinets, improved multi-component crossovers and gold-plated five-way binding posts — high-end features that ensure top-quality sound rarely found at this price.
With accurate sound reproduction and impressive clarity throughout the tonal range, they’re powerful enough to stand as the main speakers in a basic stereo setup.
BEST WIRELESS SPEAKER
Pros: Surprising audio quality
Con: A big price hike from
Best for: At home or on-the-go
Retail price: $300
A few years ago, Jawbone helped define and elevate the popular wireless speaker category with the original Jambox, a colorful, battery-powered rectangle that gave music streamed from Bluetooth devices a surprisingly big sound in an small package. This year, the company unveiled the $300 Big Jambox, which triples the original in size and sound output. Jawbone once again managed a big, spatially open sound that stays clean even at high volume. Jambox runs 15 hours on an internal battery.
Add to that useful features like a built-in speakerphone, a “LiveAudio” mode for a more open and immersive sound, and the added flexibility of Bluetooth, which can pair with almost any smartphone or tablet, and the Jambox’s great feature set makes it an excellent overall choice.