Week 1, 2016: Replace old Blu-ray player to add streaming, 2015 Sound Advice Product of the Year


Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 1, 2016

Q. I have a very early model Blu-ray player without Internet connections, hooked up to a Samsung plasma TV by HDMI. The TV only has two HDMI inputs, and my cable box is connected to the other one. I want to buy an Amazon Fire Stick to play Netflix, but don’t have an open input. Does anyone make an HDMI switcher so I can add HDMI inputs?

-Lance Rhinehart, Castle Shannon, PA

A. HDMI switches are available for about $40, but they can be unreliable. Your best option is to replace the old Blu-Ray player. It has been a long time since they made Blu-ray players without Internet connectivity, so your player is very old and probably slow-responding anyway.

You can get a Samsung BD-J5700 Blu-ray player with Wi-Fi and web streaming for $65, not much more than the Fire Stick. Get the new player and retire the old one to another room. I am specifically recommending Samsung in your case because the remote for the Blu-ray player will also work your television.

Sound Advice 2015 Product of the Year: My 2015 Sound Advice Product of the Year isn’t a technological breakthrough and it does not outperform similar products, but it did solve a big problem for a lot of readers and make them happy.

Poor flat-panel television sound and the unintelligible dialogue that comes with it is the most common complaint sent to this newspaper column. Usually the solution is adding an external speaker or sound system, but most inexpensive products don’t sound very good or help very much. This leaves the consumer with options selling for $150 or more, which are often overkill for their needs. They just want to hear their television clearly.

A few months ago I saw the Insignia NS-SB314 soundbar on sale for $79 at Best Buy. I bought one out of curiosity, and what I found was a small, affordable soundbar that did a good job of filling a decent-sized room with pleasant sound. It doesn’t provide a home theater experience, but it does make your television sound a lot better. This is all most people want.

Many readers who tried it sent me emails expressing their satisfaction, though the record is not perfect. Some reported problems with Netflix or with certain brands of television, specifically LG, and others thought it did not do enough to improve the dialogue. Overall, though, the recommendation was a smash hit with the reader base and it generated a ton of follow-up questions and comments.

Better performance is available if you spend an additional $100, but there’s a big difference between spending $49 or $69 and spending over $150. The Insignia NS-SB314 is priced low enough to be an impulse buy, or a pain-free addition when buying a new television. I hope Best Buy will continue running sales on the product, or even reduce the $99 MSRP. At $99 it is a decent buy, at $79 it is a great buy, at $69 it is an amazing buy, and at $49 it is an absolute must-have if you don’t have an external speaker for your TV. Besides a lower regular price, adding Dolby Digital to ensure universal compatibility would be another logical step forward. But for now, congratulations to Best Buy and their Insignia Products division for their affordable, functional product that satisfies a huge need.