We’re just a few short days away from the big game — and that means you need to get your home entertainment lineup into formation, making some last-minute substitutions and maybe even adding a few new players to the mix.
While it might seem last minute, it’s still easy to upgrade or even create an ultimate home theater setup to watch the big game to its fullest. Luckily, we spend hundreds of hours and many months testing the latest and greatest to find the best of the best. We even have individual guides breaking out the best TVs, soundbars and streaming boxes. But here we’re going to break out the best picks across those to give you the ultimate big game setup.
Streaming sticks and devices
A streaming box or stick might be the most crucial piece of tech this big game — especially if you’ve decided to cut the cord with a cable subscription. It not only gives you a couple of ways to stream the big game, but it will last for many months beyond that one night. Depending on your device of choice, you’ll get up to full 4K resolution and access to thousands of streaming services.
These three went the distance in our testing:
At just $49.99, the Chromecast with Google TV is a full-fledged streaming stick. It has a remote, supports a ton of streaming services and presents content in up to 4K HDR (it supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos as well). With the addition of a dedicated remote, you’re no longer forced to share your personal phone or tablet with friends and family in order for them to stream their favorite show or movie to your TV. Loading different apps and services is quick and painless, and if you’re a YouTube TV subscriber, you can access your account, including live programming, from the new Chromecast.
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box, adding Dolby Vision HDR support and improved Wi-Fi performance. The 2020 version of the Ultra is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. In fact, this is the fastest streaming device Roku has released, and we can confirm that it feels faster than the Streambar or last year’s Ultra. It outpaces the many sticks and dongles from Roku as well. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K. While all of our top picks meet the 4K threshold, the Ultra does so at a noticeably quicker rate, so you’ll never experience content that skips or appears blurry for a few frames. At $99.99, the Roku Ultra undercuts other big hitters like the Fire TV Cube and Apple TV 4K. While it’s not as full-featured as the latter, you’re not sacrificing much, if anything, in terms of everyday streaming quality. It’s the perfect cross-section of value and performance for most consumers.
For an extra $80, the Apple TV 4K takes things a bit further. It similarly upscales content to 4K UHD quality with support for HDR but steps that up a few notches with support for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, which work with supported content to increase highlights and contrast. Since it’s deeply integrated with your iPhone (and, really, any Apple-made device), it allows you to autofill logins for services, use your iOS keyboard for easier typing and cast content via AirPlay 2 to easily get photos or videos on the big screen.
We just wrapped another round of testing TVs, and our two top picks deliver serious immersion and let you see all the details. Better yet, there’s something available at every price point.
The TCL 5-Series won us over for its combination of uncompromising picture quality and built-in smarts (including Roku baked in) at an all-too-attractive price point. The reverse sticker shock — just $399 for a 50-inch TV — belies what this TV is capable of. It delivers a full 4K experience on a screen unfettered by distractingly thick bezels, a problem we found with many sub-$1,000 models. Content looks vibrant without veering into cartoonish-level saturation. There are also thousands of streaming services at your fingertips (thanks to Roku), support for various content standards and smart home integration.
For those willing and able to spend top dollar, the Sony A8H, a 2020 OLED TV, delivers unrivaled picture quality. Though it starts at $1,898 for a 55-inch model (the 65-inch is $2,798), you’re getting an OLED, which means the panel is made up of pixels that individually emit a color to create a sharper image. The Sony A8H boasts a broad range of colors, from glowing brights to subtle pastels, and pitch-dark blacks. It supports an array of picture standards that automatically upscale and improve the quality of content, and the result is an exceptionally vibrant and detailed picture.
Like TVs, we have two top picks when it comes to soundbars, both of which deliver room-filling sound in a build that doesn’t distract from the TV.
The Smart Soundbar from Roku, at just $179.99, is a combo soundbar and 4K streaming box that boasts four speakers that don’t just up the volume but also deliver clear audio that makes whatever you’re watching sound great. While it didn’t feature the best sound quality of the soundbars we tested, you would have to spend more than double the price to get something more than nominally better. Pushing it to the top, though, were its smarts — including Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2 and multiple audio modes — that rivaled some $1,000 soundbars. Throw in the fact that its compact and nondescript build is far less distracting than others while also providing easy pairing with devices to play audio however you like, and its value becomes somewhat mind-boggling.
The Roku will suffice in most use cases, but if you’re looking to get the best, near-theater-like audio quality from a soundbar, then the $799 Sonos Arc is your best option. Its 11 speakers are all angled differently to push out audio in various directions, so rather than sound coming out in one wave it flows throughout the room to deliver a surround sound feel. The Arc also boasts more bass than any other soundbar we tested, but one that doesn’t overwhelm any high or mid tones. Most impressively, TruePlay — which you can find out more about below — maps the room to deliver the best sound mix. At $799, it’s not the most affordable, but it tops all other soundbars in terms of pure audio chops — and can even put up a fight with most home theater systems.