Monday , January 25 2021

Best TV and streamer gifts for the holidays

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This year more than ever, a new streaming player — or if you’re feeling generous, a whole new TV — makes the perfect gift.

On the hunt for gift ideas? A new TV fits into that special category of tech gifts certain to blow the recipient’s stockings off. A new media streamer, however, is a lot less expensive and can also bring a world of welcome entertainment. Both are excellent gift choices in 2020, when we’re spending more time at home than ever and can certainly use the distraction a streaming service or two can provide this holiday season.

At CNET, we focus our TV and streamer reviews on products that deliver the best value for your money — after all, not even a TV lover wants to spend a fortune just to stream Stranger Things. That’s the goal of this list too, which we hope will be a big help even if you’re facing financial hardship as you head into the holiday shopping season. For as little as $30 (or less during holiday sales) you can give whatever TV fan is on your list a thoughtful gift to remember, and something to watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime for years to come. 

When it comes to covering the basics Amazon’s Fire TV Lite delivers. Amazon’s interface isn’t as strong as Roku’s and it doesn’t do 4K, but it has solid Alexa integration and is one of the rare platforms that supports nearly all major streaming apps, including Apple TV Plus (not available on Android TV or Google TV) and HBO Max (not available on Roku). The one exception is Peacock, which isn’t available yet on Fire TV. For streaming on a budget, however, there is not much more you can ask for. 

Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite review.

Take everything we just said about the Express and add must-have features like 4K HDR streaming, a voice remote control that can control your TV’s volume and power, plus compatibility with Apple’s AirPlay system and you get our favorite streamer for the money. Other $50 options like the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV are solid too, but Roku’s simplicity wins the holidays.

Read our Roku Streaming Stick Plus review.

For those looking for an alternative to Roku, Google’s new Chromecast with Google TV has emerged as an excellent option. Priced at $50, the dongle includes an actual remote and app interface, support for 4K HDR with Dolby Vision and Atmos, and strong integration with other Google services including Assistant, YouTube TV and Google Photos. Read our Chromecast with Google TV review

Read our Chromecast with Google TV review.

The 2020 version of the Roku Ultra added Dolby Vision support and improved performance while keeping the price at $100. That’s $80 cheaper than our previous pick, the Apple TV 4K. Throw in an Ethernet port, AirPlay 2 support, an excellent interface and a fantastic remote-finder feature and the Ultra is our new pick for the best high-end streamer. 

Read our Roku Ultra (2020) review.

Now we’re getting into super-generous gift-giving territory, but if you can swing it, your recipient will be a happy camper. The 6-Series is a seriously excellent TV thanks to mini-LED tech and well-implemented full-array local dimming that helps it run circles around just about any other TV at this price. It’s also a solid choice for gamers with a new THX mode that combines low input lag and high contrast. As if that’s not enough, there’s that excellent Roku TV operating system again.

Sizes: 55-, 65-, 75-inch. (The price shown below is for the 65-inch size.)

Read our TCL 6-Series (2020 Roku TV) review.

If you don’t want to be quite so generous as giving TCL 6-Series above, this is the runner-up for best TV for the money. The TCL has a better picture and better smart HDTV system so it’s a superior TV overall, but it’s also a couple hundred dollars more expensive, and it doesn’t come in a budget-friendly 50-inch size like this Vizio.

Sizes: 50-, 55-, 65-inch. (The price shown below is for the 65-inch size.)

Read our Vizio M7-Series Quantum (2020) review.

What’s that you say? You just want to give somebody the best TV, money no object? Here you go. In my side-by-side tests, the 2020 LG CX is the best TV I’ve ever reviewed, barely beating the 2019 B9. New for this year it’s available in a 48-inch size too, perfect for fitting under the tree, and its high-end gaming features go perfectly with an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 or, let’s face it, both.

Sizes: 48-, 55-, 65-, 77-inch. (The price shown below is for the 65-inch size.)

Read our LG OLEDCX series review.

The TCL 4-Series can’t beat any of the TVs above on image quality — its 4K resolution and HDR compatibility don’t do anything to help the picture — but it’s perfectly fine for most viewers, especially at this price. Despite its extreme affordability the 4-Series still includes the equivalent of a Roku Streaming Stick Plus built-in, with a single, super-simple remote to control streaming and the TV itself.

Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-inch. (The price shown below is for the 43-inch size.)

Read our TCL S425 series (Roku TV) review.

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