Home Theater Products Of The Year For 2015

Dateline: 12/08/2015

2015 really turned out to be an exciting year in home theater. First, a look at major trends during that year.

TV Trends

Despite the discontinuing Plasma TVs during 2014, and both Sharp, and Toshiba dropping their TV manufacturing divisions and licensing their TV brand names to high-profile China-based TV makers, the remaining TV makers stepped up to the plate in 2015 with new innovations that push the limits of LED/LCD TV technology.

These new technologies include Quantum Dot and Wide Color Gamut technologies, as well as HDR (High Dynamic Range).

Also, LG, in a risky move that seems to be paying off, pushed ahead with OLED TV tech, with the introduction of several new models.

In addition to new innovations, 4K Ultra HD TVs are now not only very common, but are becoming very affordable, putting pressure on TV makers to cut down on the number of 1080p models - perhaps in 2016 (or at least by 2017), we may see only 4K Ultra HD TVs on store shelves - we will get an indication of this possibility at the upcoming 2016 CES, to be held in January.

For more on 4K Ultra HD TV trends, also check out: 4KTV Prices Plunge, Spurring Uptake (Rapid TV News), which discusses how the availability and pricing of Ultra HD TVs has impacted the market in different regions of the World during 2015, and what my lay ahead - you might be surprised.

However, one TV trend that was being pushed in  2014, TVs with curved screens, cooled down somewhat in 2015. Although LG and Samsung offer a wide choice, several TV makers don't have any curved units in the U.S. product lines.

Those curved screens really don't improve the quality of the TV so much but adds some design flair to attract your attention (and entice you to part with your cash).

Audio Trends

On the audio front, things seems to not only move forward, with more manufacturers incorporating Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround sound decoding in home theater receivers with lower price points, but two-channel stereo seems to be making a comeback with several manufacturers, including Integra, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Yamaha all introducing new stereo receivers.

Another product category continues to garner favor with consumers is sound bars. However, in addition to an increase in sound bars offering better performance, an offshoot, the Under-TV sound system is really taking off (depending on the manufacturer, you will see these units referred to as a Sound Stand, Sound Plate, Sound Base, Sound Platform, etc...).

Internet Streaming

Unless you have been asleep for the past couple of years, you have noticed that internet streaming is definitely a part of the home theater content access landscape, with more options (Smart TVs, Blu-ray Disc players, and Media streamers) for grabbing TV and movie content from the internet, but in 2015, the increasing availability and ownership of 4K Ultra HD TVs has prompted both internet streaming services, and makers of Amazon and Roku to introduce media streamers with the ability to access 4K streaming content being produced by more content services.

The Video Projector Needs More Love

In addition, a category that is innovating, but not getting enough hype, is the video projector  category. Not only is the cost of owning a video projector has gone substantially, but quality is going up, with an increasing number providing brighter light output, longer lamp life and other innovations (such as using long life LED lights instead of traditional lamps), that consumers should definitely consider as an alternative to those really large screen TVs.

Product Picks For 2015

Having had a chance to get either an extended hands-on review opportunity, or extensive demonstration, of home theater products in all of the above, and more, product categories during the past year, I have narrowed down my "Best of the Year" picks, for 2015, with an emphasis on a combination of innovation and affordability for consumers.

If there is any product that deserves to be top entry in a home theater product-of-the-year list, it is the LG 65EG9600.

What makes this TV special is that its capability to produce absolute black, and its almost paper-thing physical profile, drives home the viability of OLED technology for the consumer market, and with exit of Plasma in 2014, represents the new tech standard in TV hardware.

The 65-inch LG 65EG9600 is also just one of several 4K OLED TV offerings available from LG, some of which have curved screens, and some which are flat. Frankly, the curved screen option, although looking cool, doesn't add to display performance, so that choice is more of personal preference.

For more details on the LG 65EG9600, refer to my report on its TV shootout win, as well as a review by John Archer, About.com TV/Video Expert. Official Product Page

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Samsung SUHD 4K Ultra HD LED/LCD TVs

Samsung JS8500 Series SUHD LED/LCD TV
Samsung JS8500 Series SUHD LED/LCD TV. Image provided by Samsung

Although the LG 65EG9600 has the top spot on my 2015 products of the year list, Samsung introduced a new line of LED/LCD TVs that are pretty impressive. Referred to as SUHD line these sets push the limits of LED/LCD technology by the incorporation of three key technlogies, Quantum Dots (which Samsung refers to as Nano-Crystals) to produce brilliant color, Wide Color Gamut (which produces more layers of color), and HDR, which greatly expands brightness and contrast capability (with properly encoded content).

The initial offerings in Samsung's SUHD TV line were first introduced at the 2015 CES and they looked impressive, and, upon their release into the marketplace, Samsung has offered up both curved and flat screen versions, as well as an abundant selection of screen sizes.

Of course, these sets also have everything else you would expect, including internet streaming, the ability to access content from compatible devices on a home network, as well as many smartphones and tablets, 4K upscaling for non-4K sources, and some sets offer the 3D viewing option.

For more details on Samsung's SUHD product line, including pricing and availability refer to my previous report.

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Although LG's OLED and Samsung's SUHD sets are examples of cutting-edge technology that deserve high accolades, there some examples of very affordable TVs that offer good performance that will meet the needs of most consumers. On company that has successfully laid claim to a large part of this market is Vizio, and for 2015, their E-Series TVs have gotten a lot of attention.

I had the opportunity to "live with" Vizio's 55-inch E55 1080p LED/LED TV for a couple of months and found it to be a great performer.

With price tag of less than $700, this offers a lot: 1080p native screen resolution, 120Hz effective refresh rate (60Hz plus blacklight scanning), as well as internet streaming, and access to network-based content.

However, the big bonus is that the E55 (and most of Vizio's 2015 E-series sets) offer what some higher-end TVs from other brands don't always offer - Full Array Backlighting with local dimming.

What this means for consumers is that the TV provides more even black levels across the entire screen surface, as well as control of individual zones (12 for the E55) where both bright and dark elements are included in the same scene (such as stars on a black background, or white titles on a black background). This results in less blurring or haloing about bright objects against those dark backgrounds.

To dig deeper into the Vizio E55, read my review, and also check out a sampling of Product Photos and Video Performance Test Results.

Also, for more on Vizio's entire E-Series TV line, Check out my previous report.

I got a chance to review two innovative video projectors in 2015 that I am including on this list. The first is the Optoma HD28DSE.

This projector bright white light output, which is suitable for rooms that may have some ambient light present, 2D and 3D viewing from compatible sources (3D emitter and 3D glasses require optional purchase), such as Blu-ray Disc players and PCs, and MHL-enabled HDMI input, which allows access to video content streamed or stored on compatible smartphones and tableta.

In addition, the HD28DSE features 10-watt speaker system - although not a substitute for a full home theater audio setup - for small spaces, meeting, or classroom use, it provides acceptable sound quality.

However, what make this projector standout, and why I have included it on my Home Theater Products of the Year is that it is the first video projector to incorporate Darbee Visual Presence, which adds a another video processing tool for getting better image quality.

Darbeevision does not work by upscaling resolution, but adds depth information in the image via use of real-time contrast, brightness, and sharpness manipulation (referred to as luminous modulation).

Darbeevision can be used in conjunction with 2D or 3D viewing modes, and is continuously adjustable by the user, so the degree of its effect can be set, or disabled. Review - Photos - Video Performance Tests

In addition to the Optoma HD28DSE, another innovative video projector I reviewed this year was the LG PF1500. This is definitely not your traditional video projector.

First, the LG PF1500 is extremely compact and can be easily moved around, but provides a decent light output (up to 1,400 lumens), (1920x1080) 1080p native display resolution, and has built-in speakers.

In addition, there are several interesting innovations included:

1.The incorporation of an LED light source instead of an energy-hogging lamp that needs periodic replacement, and a DLP pico chip.

2. The inclusion of both a TV tuner, which allows connection of an antenna or cable directly to the projector for watching TV programs.

3. Built-in Smart TV platform that provides access to several internet streaming services, such as Netflix.

4. Built-in Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, which not only allows access to internet-based content, but also access to content stored on local network connected devices, such as DLNA Certified PCs and media servers

5. Bluetooth output capability for compatible sound bars or Bluetooth-enabled speakers.

Review - Photos - Video Performance Tests -

A lot of home theater journalists have been dwelling over the pending demise of the home theater receiver, but if 2015 was any indication, that time is still a long way off as several manufacturers announced extensive line-ups in this product category.

There were several that deserve a spot on this list, but having to choose one that is an example of what is available on the high-end, I pick the Denon AVR-X6200W. For most, this receiver does just about everything except pop popcorn and dispense soft drinks.

To start, the AV-X6200W incorporates an internal 9.2 channel configuration, but can be expanded up to 13.2 channels via optional external amplifier(s). The built-in amp channels each have a 140 watt output (measured using an 8 ohm load, from 20hz-20kHz, at .05% THD level). Definitely enough clean power output for just about any size room.

The AVR-X6200W is also compatible with the latest immersive surround sound formats (Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro 3D Audio).

The AVR-X6200W also all the inputs you need, including 8 4K 50/60Hz, 3D, HDR, Rec.2020 color gamut compatible HDMI inputs. Outputs include 3 HDMI (2 parallel and 1 independent 2nd Zone).

Also, up to 1080p and 4K upscaling is provided for non-4K sources.

Built-in Ethernet, Wifi for access to both internet-based and local network-based audio content is provided, as well as Bluetooth, for direct wireless audio streaming from compatible smartphones and tablets, Built-in Apple AirPlay, as well as access to

Spotify Connect, Pandora, Sirius/XM, and Internet Radio.

For even more details (yes, there is a lot more), check out my full report.

Although Sound Bars have taken the consumer market by storm, another option that is getting very popular is the Under-TV Audio System, which takes the features of a sound bar and puts it inside a cabinet that can also be used as platform to set your TV on top of. The ZVOX SoundBase 670 serve as a TV platform for LCD, Plasma, or OLED TVs weighing up to 120 pounds

Inside the ZVOX SoundBase 670 cabinet is an amplified 5 speaker, 3.1 channel audio system with 3 downfiring subwoofers, additional supported by Dolby Digital decoding and Phase Cue II virtual surround sound audio processing. Also, its AccuVoice feature brings out more presence to center channel vocals and dialog.

Connection options are provided for your TV, and additional analog and digital audio sources (such as CD player, Blu-ray Disc/DVD player, or set-top box), as well as wireless Bluetooth devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

Review - Photo Profile

I get a chance to hear a lot of speakers and subwoofers, but one that I found most interesting during 2015 was the SVS PC-2000.

The first thing to notice is that not only is this subwoofer large, but instead of the traditional box design, it has a distinctive cylindrical shape. Inside that cylinder is downfiring 12-inch driver, rear mounted port, and power 500-watt amplifier. The SVS PC-2000 has a low-end frequency response down below 20Hz, which should satisfy any subwoofer fan (although not any upstairs or next door neighbors).

With its unique design and power amplifier, the SVS PC-2000 is well-suited for home theater, especially for a medium or large room. However, keep in mind that it is almost 3 feet tall and weighs about 50 pounds.

Also, with a down downfiring driver, care needs to be take when moving around to find the best room placement.

On the other hand, it only has a 13-inch wide floor footprint.

Review - Product Photos

Although there are a lot of devices that provide access to internet streaming content, with the introduction of 4K Ultra HD TVs a few years back, devices that can actually stream 4K content have not been available - However, in 2015, that began to change. With services such as Netflix, M-Go, Amazon Instant Video, ToonGoogles, Vudu, and YouTube), beginning to offer content in 4K, the need for media streamers to add this capability is definitely important for consumers.

Roku, the name that is synonymous with internet streaming, introduced their first 4K streaming media player, which is a little larger than previous Roku Boxes, but it still has a slim spacing-saving profile.

Inside the box is a Quad-Core processor (the first one for a Roku box) for fast menu and feature navigation, as well as more efficient content access. The Roku also includes a new operating system, referred to as OS7, as well as a redesigned, companion mobile app for iOS and Android devices that provides even more flexibility.

Video capabilities include up to 4K video resolution when connected to a 4K Ultra HD TV (including upscaling 720p and 1080p content to 4K.

The Roku 4 can also play video content stored on USB flash drives.

Audio support includes compatibility with Dolby Digital Plus (content dependent).

Upgraded Wifi is built-in, as well as a wired Ethernet connection options are provided for easy internet connectivity.

TV connectivity includes an HDMI output (HDCP 2.2 compliant). Also, you have the option accessing audio via the HDMI ouput or by using the additional Digital Optical audio output option.

You can also send videos and photos from a compatible mobile device to the Roku 4 and see them on your TV screen.

For more details on the Roku 4, Read my full report

Blu-ray Disc players are now standard fare, and as far a new innovative players being introduced in 2015, nothing really special - In fact, last year's top Blu-ray Disc Player pick, the OPPO BDP-105D, is still the "King of the Hill", in my opinion. However, wait until next year (2016) and the recently announced Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format will result in new player introductions which will be definitely make next year's list. The first batch of movie titles for the new format has been announced.

On the one hand, what has happened to Blu-ray Disc players, is that they have reached prices so low, and morphed into a complete media playback device for physical, network, and internet-based content, that there is no excuse not to have one in your home theater setup.

One example of an affordable player that I reviewed early in 2015 was the Panasonic DMP-BDT360, which is currently ending its production cycle.

The DMP-BDT360 is compatible with 2D and 3D Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, CDs, as well as providing both 1080p and 4K upscaling (make those DVDs and Blu-ray Disc look better on that 4K Ultra HD TV).

In addition to physical disc playback, the DMP-BDT360 also provides Ethernet and built-in WiFi for easy connection to the internet for accessing audio/video streaming content, such as CinemaNow, Netflix, Pandora, Vudu, and more.

Miracast is also included, which provides wireless streaming directly from compatible smartphones and tablets.

Review - Photos - Video Performance Tests

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3DGO! 3D Streaming Service

3DGO! App
3DGO! App. Image provided by Sensio and Samsung

Although it is no longer the "big hype" in TVs, 3D has by no means disappeared - it is just one feature of many that you may be able to take advantage of on some TVs and most video projectors. 3D-enabled TVs continue to be sold and used, and 3D content is available on Blu-ray Disc (with over 400 titles worldwide), through some cable/satellite providers, and from streaming services, such as Vudu and 3DGO! by Sensio

3DGO! is a Video-on-Demand streaming service that provides 3D movie and video content from several major studios, including Disney/Marvel/Pixar, Universal, Fox, Paramount/Dreamworks, and National Geographic. The 3D GO! app is available on LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and 2012/2013 Model Year Vizio 3D-enabled Smart TVs.

For more details, check out How 3DGO! Works Page.

NOTE: Although I picked 3DGO! as my favorite home theater streaming app, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fact several 4K streaming services made a significant impact during 2015.

Three internet streaming providers offering up 4K content include Netflix, Amazon, and UltraFlix.

However, keep in mind that in order to access 4K streaming content, you need not just any 4K Ultra HD TV, but one that has the proper built-in decoders, and you also need fast broadband speed.