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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.
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