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Audio System Focus: Sound Bars, HTiBs, Internet Streaming

1/07/2010 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Unit and dollar sales of home theater in a box (HTiB) systems fell at a single-digit rate in 2009, many marketers said, but sales of systems equipped with Blu-ray players have exceeded expectations, and sales of HTiBs with movie-streaming services and iPod docks were also up during the recession.

So were HTiBs that take the shape of active surround bars, which simplify the integration and set-up of multi-speaker surround systems and deliver matrixed- or discrete-channel virtual surround through passive or active techniques.

With those trends in mind, suppliers here at International CES will expand the selection of Blu-ray-equipped HTiBs, offer more HTiBs with Internet music and movie streaming, and launch more powered surround bars. More powered sound bars without virtual surround will also turn up to fatten up thin-sounding speakers in flat-panel TVs.

“Sound bars offer the opportunity to deliver a high-performance, compact speaker solution at a lower price point for small living rooms or secondary-room applications,” said Dave Bales, Pioneer's home audio marketing and product planning manager. Many sound bar and surround bar solutions “will attract a class of customer not prepared to deal with the challenges of component audio,” including the placement of multiple speakers around a room, added Polk product manager Al Baron.

For those who only want to simplify the purchase of a home theater system, more multi-speaker HTiBs will debut with Blu-ray players, some at prices as low as a tentative suggested $399 for a Philips-brand product from TV supplier P&F. That compares to everyday prices that bottomed out at around $499, with promotions at $449, in 2009. Those prices exclude Blu-ray HTiBs that were bundled by TV suppliers and retailers with the purchase of a new TV, suppliers said.

The proliferation of more affordable BD HTiBs could help boost HTiB average selling prices, said Bob Weissburg, D&M sales and marketing president.

For the 11 months ending November 2009, NPD found that 16 percent of HTiBs sold to consumers were equipped with Blu-ray, up from 1 percent during the year-ago period. CEA statistics show Blu-ray HTiBs accounted for 4 percent of factory-level HTiB unit sales in 2008, and in its mid-2009 revised forecast, projected that to grow to 12.5 percent in 2009.

For 2010 retailers at CES will find P&F offering its first Philips-brand HTiBs with Internet music and movie streaming and expanding its selection of BD-equipped HTiBs.

LG is unveiling its first Blu-ray HTiBs with embedded Wi-Fi and Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) certification to stream content from a networked PC.

Sony is introducing its first Blu-ray HTiBs with Internet audio and video streaming, both of which are its first BD HTiBs with embedded Wi-Fi.

iLive is expanding its selection of iPhone-certified docking sound bars and surround bars.

Polk is launching two new surround bars that are only 1.95 inches deep while Vizio debuts its first surround bar with embedded Dolby Digital decoder.

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