Upgrade your TV viewing experience with these 5 add-ons — starting at just $20

·11 min read

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(Photos: Hisense, Facebook, Roku, Govee)
(Photos: Hisense, Facebook, Roku, Govee)

Did you take advantage of a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale on a new TV? I'm sure by now you're enjoying that dazzling screen and probably a better streaming experience than you had before.

Now let's take things to the next level. With a few strategic upgrades, your TV viewing experience can get even better. I'm talking LED lights that add a theatrical glow behind the screen, a sound bar to raise your audio game and perhaps even a camera for big-screen Zoom calls.

Obviously these upgrades aren't exclusively for new TVs. In fact, if you have an older model, the best place to start is with a current-generation Fire TV Stick or Roku streaming device. These can offer snappy navigation, HDR-enhanced 4K streaming, a voice-capable remote and more, with prices starting at just $30.

Which one to choose? I think Roku streamers are the easiest to use, with a very simple and straightforward interface. Amazon's Fire TV products add Alexa voice support to the mix (nice if you're already familiar with that and/or have other Alexa-capable devices in your home) and also offer games, but the learning curve is a bit higher.

Upgrade your Roku remote

Roku's Voice Remote Pro makes a great upgrade for any Roku TV, with features like hands-free voice commands, a rechargeable battery and a headphone jack. (Photo: Roku)
Roku's Voice Remote Pro makes a great upgrade for any Roku TV, with features like hands-free voice commands, a rechargeable battery and a headphone jack. (Photo: Roku)

If your new TV came with built-in Roku, here's something of a bummer: It may not be giving you the best Roku experience. That's because models from the likes of Hisense, Onn and TCL don't include premium Roku remotes. 

Thankfully, there's an easy fix for that: The Roku Voice Remote. For just $20, it adds one must-have feature: a microphone button. Press it and you can use your voice for all kinds of time-saving shortcuts.

There are benefits for older TVs as well: The Voice Remote can also take over power, volume and mute controls, meaning you'll potentially have one less clicker to juggle.  

$20 at Amazon

If that sounds good, here's an option that's even better: The Roku Voice Remote Pro. For just $9 more, it adds hands-free voice controls (no need to press the microphone button), two programmable shortcut buttons, a headphone jack for private listening (using either the included earbuds or your favorite 'phones), a rechargeable battery and even a lost-remote finder. To me this is a no-brainer: If you're willing to spend $20 on a remote upgrade, spend $29 for a vastly superior one.

$29 at Amazon

Upgrade your audio

The Roku Streambar (pictured) makes a great addition to new and old TVs alike. The Streambar Pro is even better, with more drivers and an upgraded voice remote. Either one can pair with wireless extras to really amp up the audio. (Photo: Roku)
Amp up audio on new and old TVs alike. (Photo: Roku)

It's one of the great ironies: You bring home this big, beautiful treat for your eyes, but your ears get short-changed. That's because flat-screen TVs don't have room for decent speakers. And the little ones squeezed in there point the sound down or toward the rear, exactly where your ears aren't.

I'd argue, then, that the single best TV upgrade is a sound bar. You'll enjoy a big boost in volume, clarity and overall quality. There are tons of options out there; you can pretty much let your wallet be your guide, as sound bars range in price from $50 on up to $500 (or more).

Here are three options I like:

Zvox AV100: $80 (save $20)

Compact but powerful, the AV100 produces 45 watts of audio goodness. Its output-leveling feature helps guard against blaringly loud commercials, and its six-level AccuVoice system isolates dialogue to make it easier to hear. I gave one of these to my hearing-challenged parents a couple year ago and it was a godsend.

This typically sells for $100 at places like Amazon, but for a limited time you can get the Zvox AV100 for $80 at HSN.

$80 $100 at HSN

Roku Streambar Pro: $180

This is kind of like two upgrades in one: a Dolby Audio-enhanced sound bar and high-end Roku streamer, the latter equipped with the Voice Remote Pro mentioned above (minus the rechargeable battery). The Streambar Pro sounds great on its own, but it really shines if you add the Roku Subwoofer and a pair of Roku Wireless Speakers — the net result being a 5.1-channel surround system. Although that setup will set you back about $500, it's a snap to configure (everything is plug-and-play) and seriously great for movie night.

$180 at Best Buy

Sonos Beam (Gen 2): $450

Sonos makes some of the best speakers on the planet, full stop. So it stands to reason the company's latest sound bar would be a winner. Following on the popularity of the first-generation model, this one adds highly coveted Dolby Atmos to the mix, the result being that sound seems to come from all around you (which normally requires actual surround speakers).

You can find out more in Engadget's Sonos Beam (Gen 2) review. The upshot is that if you're willing to splurge a bit, this is the kind of sound system your big, beautiful screen was meant to have.

$450 at Best Buy

Read more: Having trouble hearing your TV? These genius headphones — now $60 at Amazon — enhance dialogue

Add bias lighting

Add a strip of LEDs -- like this one from Hamlite -- to the back of your TV to really enhance your viewing experience. (Photo: Hamlite)
Add a strip of LEDs to the back of your TV to really enhance your viewing experience. (Photo: Hamlite)

You know what's missing when you settle in on the couch with your bowl of (perfectly microwaved) popcorn? Proper lighting. Specifically, that cool, colorful, movie theater-style glow emanating from behind the screen.

This is commonly referred to as bias lighting, and it's not only a nifty addition to your home theater, but also a practical one: This kind of illumination can actually help reduce eyestrain.

To see it in action, you might think it requires fancy equipment or difficult installation. Wrong on both counts: Bias lighting comes courtesy of peel-and-stick LED strips that are surprisingly inexpensive. Most can be controlled via an app on your phone; some can respond to voice commands as well.

There are tons of these available from various Amazon sellers; I've had good luck with Govee's products, like this 16.4-foot Govee Smart LED Strip Lights kit ($24). That's enough to bias-light a TV of up to about 70 inches, and you can trim it as needed if you're installing on a smaller model.

This has all the controls, too: An inline remote, a companion app and support for both Alexa and Google Assistant. (Note that you must have at least one compatible device in your home already; it doesn't accept voice commands on its own.)

$24 at Amazon

Add a camera for big-screen video calls

The Portal TV installs on nearly any TV to deliver big-screen Messenger, WhatsApp and Zoom calls. (Photo: Facebook)
The Portal TV installs on nearly any TV to deliver big-screen Messenger, WhatsApp and Zoom calls. (Photo: Facebook)

If you've ever used your phone for a video call, you know that a small screen isn't ideal. That's especially true for Zoom and other multi-person calls, which can shrink everyone into even tinier windows.

Facebook's Portal TV takes it in the other direction. This camera plugs into your TV to allow for big-screen Messenger, WhatsApp and Zoom calls. It will automatically pan and zoom to keep you in the frame, too, just in case you're moving around while chatting.

There's even built-in Alexa, so you can use it for things like checking your front-porch camera. And while you may already have this base covered, the Portal doubles as a streamer, with apps like Netflix, Prime Video and Spotify on hand for music and movies.

Normally $149, the Portal TV is on sale for just $79 right now. Even if you miss the sale, this is a great way to leverage your big screen for more than just viewing.

$79 $149 at Amazon

Add a decorative frame

Add a super-stylish frame to your wall-mounted TV with one of the many options available from this Etsy seller. (Photo: Best Fit Frames)
Add a super-stylish frame to your wall-mounted TV with one of the many options available from this Etsy seller. (Photo: Best Fit Frames)

Wish your wall-mounted TV could have a nifty decorative frame like Samsung's The Frame? It can, if you're handy with things like miter saws and wood stain. Alternatively, check out the TV frame kits from Etsy seller Best Fit Frames. First you install the kit (which looks like a pretty quick and easy job), then choose from a wide variety of interchangeable frames.

The kits range from $75 on up to about $150, depending on the size of your TV. Most of the frames start at around $24.

See at Etsy

Have you found any other great TV upgrades? Talk about them in the comments section below!

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