Last updated on 01/18/2013
What’s a TV without accessories? Just a big screen with a tuner. A flat-panel is the centerpiece of a home theater, but the accessories can add flash, flare, and most importantly, functionality. Consider this a rudimentary guide to HDTV accessories, a starting point from which you can explore limitless possibilities for tricking out your TV room.
By Liam McCabe
Wall Mounts: Almost all HDTVs come with a pedestal mount for tables of entertainment centers, and they take up a small amount of space all things considered. But if you really can’t spare the floor space -- or you just want a sleeker solution -- mount your flat-panel on a wall.
Wall mounts come in a few varieties, most commonly either a low-profile tilting mount or an articulating mount. The former keeps the TV close to the wall and allows some vertical tilting to get the right viewing angle from the couch. The latter features a tilt-and-swivel arm for a greater degree of control. Some models have a channel for cords and cables, keeping clutter to a minimum. Mounts start at $20, but can climb into the $800 range, and even over $1,000 for an ostentatious motorized design.
Antennae: Cable and satellite TV subscriptions are expensive, but most shows are free to stream from sites like Hulu, or are at least available a la carte from iTunes or Amazon. If the only live TV you end up watching is Jeopardy and the nightly news, cut the cord on your expensive TV subscription package and rely on over-the-air signals -- it's even in HD now!
All HDTVs come with built-in tuners, but an antenna will significantly improve your reception. It’s not rocket science -- if you’re ambitious, buy a big outdoor unit. If you want a simple, effective solution, buy a low-profile indoor antenna. Just like your elders did. Great antennae go for under $50.
Cables/Cords: Cords and cables are the lifelines of a home theater, but buyers pay way too much for them too often. There are at least a half-dozen types of cables, so we won’t get into all of them here (check out this guide for more on all the inputs and cables in your home theater).
Just remember this: Don’t overpay for HDMI cables. Premium brands like Monster Cable claim to outperform the bargain brands, but if they do, the difference is indiscernible. $10 is a fair price to pay for an HDMI cable, and you pay less than that without a decrease in quality. HDMI v1.2 or v1.3 cables are fine for almost all applications, so unless you’re planning on setting up a 3DTV rig soon, stick to those. If you really want to be leading the next wave, go ahead and upgrade to v1.4, which includes an ethernet connection in the cable, as well as support for 3D video and future support for 2k resolution (the next step up from 1080p, though no formats use 2k resolution yet). You probably won’t use any of those features yet, but hey, you’ll be prepared.
Remotes: HDTVs come with a basic remote (at least), and cable subscribers usually get a more advanced remote to accompany their cable box. But home-theater junkies that want full control of every aspect of their setup should look at a universal remote. Logitech is known to be the best brand, and their Harmony series of remotes often include LCD displays, if not touchscreens and QWERTY keyboards. Whether a remote control is really worth $200 is another matter entirely.
Disc Players: Physical video players have been a mainstay of home theaters for decades, from VCRs to DVD players and now Blu-ray players. A physical media player like a Blu-ray deck isn’t essential anymore since on-demand and streaming Internet video are readily available, but a few groups of TV-junkies prefer them. Videophiles swear by the 1080p HD quality that Blu-ray offers. Some folks just prefer hard copies of their movies. And there are still tens of millions of people in the US and Canada without reliable Internet connections (or any Internet connections at all), so physical media is the only option.
Blu-ray players can go for as cheap as $90, but they run slow and might have some playback-quality issues. Some decent models start to appear around $120. High-quality decks start at around $200, and usually include some form of Internet connectivity. The newest models even support 3D Blu-ray discs. Playstation 3 ($299) is perhaps the most popular Blu-ray player out there, thanks to its excellent all-around multimedia capability. We’ve also seen some videophile-oriented models go for as much as $850, but if you have to ask why you need such an expensive player, you don’t need one.
Then there are the trusty old DVD players. If you’re on a tight budget and just need something to play back your stack of Seinfeld box-sets, DVD players go for as little as $30. Upconverting DVD players, which somewhat convincingly boost a DVD’s standard-def output up to high-def resolution, start around $40.
Internet Boxes: Tech-savvy users are already on top of this trend, but Internet “boxes” are poised to become a big part of home theaters in the next few years. These gadgets (or at least the good ones) do two very handy things: They organize an existing digital media library, like one that’s stored on a home computer; and they simplify the process of searching for digital media on the Internet, whether it’s free content or for-pay content.
These boxes have been around for a few years but have only recently gained much widespread attention with the release of Google TV on the Logitech Revue box. Other reasonably popular internet boxes include Apple TV and the long-awaited Boxee Box, finally due out this month.