March Madness is more popular than ever. Last year’s Final Four drew a record 16.3 million cable viewers, Fox News reports, with the Connecticut-Florida game setting an all-time single-game audience record.
Meanwhile, online audiences grew 9 percent to 9.9 million, and the March Madness Live app scored 4.5 million downloads. This year the NCAA has upgraded its app in the expectation of even bigger online audiences. But whether you access the tournament via cable or the Internet, your viewing experience will pivot on the quality of your entertainment center.
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Courtside Seats: Home Theaters in a Box
Your shortcut to the virtual equivalent of front-row seats is a home theater in a box (HTIB) system. Ideally an HTIB system should include enough speakers for the size of your viewing room, a Blu-ray player produced by the same manufacturer as your speakers, good connectivity to your HDTV, an Internet connection, a digital tuner for local broadcasts, a state-of-the-art remote control, and last but not least, good customer service.
Top Ten Reviews ranks the Philips Blu-ray Home Theater System HTS3306/F7 as the best HTIB buy currently on the market, standing out for its integrated Blu-ray player, 5.1-channel surround sound, and connectivity options, delivered for a price tag of $279.99. Samsung’s $799.99 Smart Home Theater HT-D6730W and Sony’s $399.99 3D Blu-ray Home Theater BDV-E280 were close runners-up.
Setting Your Screen: Selecting the Right TV
The centerpiece of any home theater system is your HDTV or projector. CNET’s cinematic connoisseur David Katzmaier scored the top TV and projector systems on value, picture quality, features and design. Vizio’s E0i-B series won for its combination of a $477.99 to $565.00 price tag with superior picture performance, followed by Vizio’s slightly less expensive M2i-B series. Samsung‘s HU8550 and LG’s 55EC9300 also ranked high for those willing to spend $1,797.99 and up, while Roku TV’s TCL FS4610R delivers a powerful smart TV suite with reduced picture quality for a price range of $299.99 to $344.00.
Picking Your Team: Choosing TV Providers
Getting the most out of your TV means going with the right provider. Best Satellite Providers compared today’s leading options head-to-head on plans, features, services and customer service. Dish came out number one for its affordable pricing ($19.99 to $84.99 per month) combined with its sports-friendly package of 320-plus channels and array of features. One Dish highlight is the unique Hopper feature, which lets you watch two games side-by-side using PIP technology. For basketball fans, Dish doubles this with a new College Sports Multi-Channel View app that shows up to four games simultaneously. If that isn’t enough action for you, you can also record up to six live HD primetime broadcasts to make sure you don’t miss any of your favorite games.
Fast Break: Watching Games on the Go
For fans who want to watch the tournament on the go, a variety of apps are available to support viewing on mobile devices. The NCAA’s March Madness Live app lets cable and satellite subscribers watch every game on their mobile device, while non-subscribers can catch games airing on CBS. CBS and ESPN also provide apps to help you keep up with the action.