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Sound Bars Compensate For Thin TV Sound Limits

1/06/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

LAS VEGAS — Ever-thinner TVs are leaving little
room for cinema-sized sound to go with their cinema-
sized screens.

Enter sound bars, the single-chassis speaker solutions
— usually with built-in amplification — designed
to boost output, enhance the accuracy of recorded
sound, and, in many cases, deliver virtual surround
in households with no inclination to make room for
five or more speakers.

In many cases, consumers are turning to sound
bars just to hear intelligible dialog. As flat-panel TVs
get flatter, “the sound has finally come to the point
where consumers can’t stand it,” said Tom Sumner,
Yamaha Electronics president. “Audio has become a
must to purchase with new TVs just to hear a newscast,
let alone enjoy a music or sporting event. “

For the 10-month period ending October, retaillevel
sound-bar sales rose 98 percent in units and
65 percent in dollars, The NPD Group statistics
show.

Here at CES, dealers will find Haier and LG entering
the market, Sharp doubling its selection to six
SKUs, companies such as Boston Acoustics and
Coby stepping up
their offerings, and
at least one company
– Noah – showing tabletop
TV pedestals
with active speaker
systems. For its part,
Polk will unveil its first
passive seven-channel
sound bars, replacing
five-channel
models.

Here’s a sampling of what will be unveiled:

Boston Acoustics: The new $349 150-watt
TVee Model 25 is due in April to replace the current
$299 TVee Model 20 and join the $599 TVee Model
30. All come with wireless subwoofer and connect
to a TV set to improve the sound quality of TV programs
and TV-connected video sources.

To the Model 20, the Model 25 adds Dolby Digital
decoding, virtual 5.1 surround, optical digital input,
styling closer to the 30, and a boundary switch to
maximize performance whether installed on a wall or
on a TV cabinet. The 25 also adds more user-friendly
control placement and a selectable input switch that
enables simultaneous connection to both digital and
analog sources, making it easier to switch between
them, the company said.

The top-end Model 30, previously announced and
due in January, adds 300-watt output, a dedicated center channel
for clear movie
dialogue, six drivers
compared to
two in the TVee
25, and a 7-inch
subwoofer driver
in a tuned bandpass
chamber,
versus a downfiring
6.5-inch sub, to deliver more output with greater
extension and lower distortion, the company said.
The sub is also shaped for vertical or horizontal
placement. Other step-up features include a sidemounted
mini-stereo input and stereo Bluetooth.

Coby: The company’s first sound bar with virtualsurround
technology is the CSMP88 with six drivers
plus integrated subwoofer. It connects to a TV via
RCA stereo inputs and to other sources via 3.5mm
input to deliver 400-watt output. It uses virtual surround
technology from Sonic
Emotion. It ships in January.
Pricing was unavailable.

Haier: The supplier of
TVs and other CE products
will show its first six sound
bars, all designed
as TV add-ons that
use the TV for video
switching.

One of the sound
bars is the 3D
Sound Bar, which
incorporates Dolby
Digital 5.1 decoder,
optical digital input, and two embedded downfiring
woofers. It uses Sonic Emotion 3D sound technology
from Germany-based Sonic Emotion “to create
true surround sound for everyone in the room,”
Haier said

Haier’s 3D Sound Bar will require no calibration
and will deliver its surround effect regardless of
room configuration or the proximity of walls to “eliminate
the common problem of sweetspots” that limit
other sound-bar and surround-sound technologies,
Haier said.

Further details of the sound bars weren’t available
from Haier.

iLive: The digital products international division
is launching its first sound bar with wireless subwoofer.
The $199-suggested iTPW891B slim bar
speaker is 37 inches wide, connects to the analog
outputs of a TV, and incorporates motorized iPhone/
iPod docking drawer that closes flush when no Apple
device is present.
Other features
include iPod-video
output, FM tuner
and BBE sound to
simulate surround
sound. The sub is
also slim, enabling
it to be placed on
a stand or under a
couch.

The sound bar
can be used with
a free app that
features clock,
five-day weather forecast, calendar with voice reminder, and other
features.

LG: The company’s first sound bar is designed
for 42-inch TVs and larger and features wireless
subwoofer. It comes with stereo Bluetooth receiver
and transmitter to receive Bluetooth streams from
portable devices as well as transmit audio to wireless
headphones. It also features two optical digital
inputs, USB Host to play content from connected
MP3/WMA players. Output is rated at 2x70 watts
plus 1x140 watts.

Maxell: The company returns to the sound-bar
market with three AcoustaBar sound bars priced at
a suggested $199, $249 and $399. They feature
RCA stereo analog inputs and two-channel digital
coaxial and optical inputs to connect to audio sources,
including TV audio outputs. The trio lacks Dolby
Digital 5.1 decoding but use SRS technology to enhance
bass and deliver an enveloping soundfield.

The $199 model is 32 inches wide and features
two-way speaker system, 240-watt amp, two sets of
RCA inputs, a digital coaxial input, a digital optical
input, and remote. The $249 model, also 32-incheswide,
adds an extra set of RCA inputs, and iPod
dock/charger, remote control of iPod functions, a
three-way speaker system, and 430-watt amp. The
$399 model adds more power at 520 watts and is
wider at 39.75 inches.

Noah: The Chinese company is complementing
its sound-bar selection with its first three “TV platform
speakers,” which double as sound bars and
swiveling bases for flat-panel TVs up to 55 inches.

The opening-price AcoustaBase 1 platform
speaker features three RCA audio inputs, two stereo
digital audio inputs, SRS WOW 3D technology
to enhance bass and deliver immersive sound, LCD
display, and six drivers. They consist of two 1-inch
tweeters, dual 3-inch midranges and dual woofers
delivering up to 360 watts.

AcoustaBase II adds FM tuner and included stereo
FM adapter that snaps onto iPods to transmit
iPod-stored music to the platform. AcoustaBase III
adds wireless stand-alone iPod/iPhone dock that
transmits stored music to the platform/speaker,
which also adds two HDMI inputs and one HDMI
output.

The platforms’ bases swivel 360 degrees, thanks
to a rounded back. The trio ships in January at $229,
$259 and $329, respectively.

Philips (P&F): The company is carrying over its
$249-suggested HSB 2313 sound bar, which features
wired subwoofer, decoding of Dolby Digital
5.1, and Dolby Virtual Speaker technology, which
delivers a virtual surround-sound experience from
left-right speakers. The system features two HDMI
1.3 inputs, two HDMI 1.3 outputs, and coaxial and RCA stereo audio inputs.

Polk: The company is targeting February for shipment
of two seven-channel passive sound bars. They are the 49-
inch CHT500 and 39-inch CHT400, both with black extruded-
aluminum chassis at a suggested $999 and $699,
respectively.

The 500CHT will be only 1.5-inches-thick, thanks to an
outboard module that incorporates the system’s crossovers
and proprietary passive SDA (Stereo Dimensional Array)
technology to widen the sound stage and create an enveloping
virtual surround field. The control module connects
to a receiver’s seven- or five-channel speaker outputs, and
an included 15-foot cable connects to the speaker via a
multipin connector. The CHT400 chassis, with built-in
crossovers and SDA technology, is 2.5-inches-thick.

Sharp: The company is doubling its selection to six with
new models that include its first with HDMI connections
and HDMI’s audio return channel.

Three models include HDMI output that supports
HDMI’s audio return channel, simplifying hookup to an
HDMI-equipped TV. One of the three has HDMI switching,
and it uses three HDMI 1.4a inputs and output to
pass through 3D content from Blu-ray discs and cable/
satellite set-top boxes.

The model with HDMI switching is the 3.1-channel HTSB600
with outboard subwoofer, three HDMI 1.4a inputs,
one HDMI 1.4a output with audio return channel, stereo
RCA input, and two digital audio inputs (optical and coaxial).
It also features embedded Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1
decoders and Dolby Virtual Speaker to deliver a virtual 5.1
soundfield. Power is rated at 3x100 watts plus 1x100 watts.

The other two models with HDMI output but no HDMI inputs
are the 2.1-channel HT-SL70 and HT-SL50, both with
outboard subwoofer. These models feature analog-stereo
3.5mm input, RCA input, and HDMI output with audio return
channel. The SL70 is rated at 2x50 watts plus 1x 100
watts. The SL50 is rated at 2x25 plus 1x50 watts.

Among the new sound bars without HDMI, the 2.1-channel
HT-SB350 features built-in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1
decoders and Dolby Virtual Speaker to simulate 5.1-channel
surround sound. It also features SRS WOW HD post
processing to expand the horizontal and vertical image and
add bass response and clarity. The 2.1-channel SB250 features
built-in SRS WOW HED decoding. Both come with
embedded subwoofer. Pricing was unavailable.