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Home-Theater-In-A Box Systems Are Getting Simpler

1/10/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

LAS VEGAS — The success of soundbar systems
with virtual surround processing could be influencing
more suppliers to reduce the number of speakers in
multispeaker HTiB systems to 2.1 from 5.1 or more.

During International CES, Boston Acoustics and
Klipsch’s Energy brand are launching their first
2.1-speaker HTiBs with virtual surround processing.

Harman Kardon will be launching a second-generation
2.1-speaker HTiB equipped with single-chassis
A/V receiver/Blu-ray player.

And P&F USA, under the Philips brand, is launching
its first 2.1-speaker HTiB with virtual surround.

Some companies are taking the simplification
trend a step farther. In2 Technologies, for example,
is launching its Unity Home Theater System, which
packs home-theater audio electronics, speakers and
a 3D Blu-ray player into a floorstanding platform for
flat-panel TVs. For its part, Klipsch is reintroducing
the stereo console from the ’50s and ’60s with the
furniture-grade hand-built Klipsch Console, designed
for serious music listening as well as for TV-audio playback. It features built-in 2.1-channel sound
system, Apple AirPlay technology, and a USB port to
charge mobile devices and capture iPod audio in digital
PCM form for playback.

Though such products as Unity and the Klipsch
Console defy easy categorization as HTiB systems,
they and the new 2.1-speaker systems underscore
a desire by audio suppliers to reduce
living room clutter and simplify system
setup by reducing the number of hometheater
components needed.

Those efforts, like the proliferation of
active soundbars with virtual surround
processing, could help reverse a decline
in HTiB sales, which fell in 2010
and again during the first 10 months
of 2011. During the January through
October 2011 period, factory-level
unit sales fell 18 percent to 1.78
million units on a dollar decline
of 25 percent to $448.4 million,
Consumer Electronics Association
statistics show.

Also at the show, Apple’s
AirPlay technology is turning up
for the first time in HTiBs, with
the technology appearing in two
Philips models. And more HTiBs
with integrated 3D Blu-ray players
will appear at suggested retails of
$299.

Here are some of the new HTiBs
that dealers will find at the show:

Boston Acoustics: The D&M brand is launching
its first active 2.1-speaker system with virtual surround
processing.

The $499-suggested SoundWare XS Digital Cinema
system ships in January to join the brand’s two
TVee Soundbar speakers, which also incorporate
virtual surround processing and amplification but in
a single bar-style chassis with separate subwoofer.
Like the passive speakers in the SoundWare line, the
XS’s satellite speakers are polyhedron-shaped molded-
cabinet models whose shape allows for multiple
placement options, including on a shelf, on a wall, in a
corner, and where the ceiling and wall meet.

Like the TVee Soundbars, the XS features Dolby
Digital 5.1 decoding, Boston’s proprietary Virtual Surround
processing, optical digital and analog inputs,
stereo Bluetooth to play back
music streamed from portable
devices, and ability to learn the
IR codes of a user’s TV remote.
Code learning enables users to
use their TV remote to turn the
soundbar on and off when the
TV is turned on and off, and consumers
can use the TV’s remote
to adjust the soundbar’s volume.

The systems small high-glossblack
speakers are two-way
models with 2.5-inch woofers
and 0.5-inch tweeters. Articulating
wall brackets are included.

Energy: A 2.1-speaker system
connects to TVs to deliver virtual
surround sound. The as-yetunnamed
system consists of two
satellite speakers, a separate subwoofer,
and a control pod. It incorporates
Dolby Digital decoding
and Dolby Virtual Speaker, which
delivers a virtual surround sound.

Video switching is left to the connected TV, which
supplies audio to the Trio via analog and digital outputs.
The Trio switches among three audio sources as
well as a 3.5mm front-panel aux input to connect to
portable music devices.

The speaker complement consists of two twoway
satellites powered by a 2x25-watt amp.
The satellites consist of a 3-inch driver and
companion 20mm dome tweeter. They are
accompanied by a 75-watt 8-inch sidefiring
subwoofer in an MDF enclosure.
It is targeted to ship in July or in the
fall with auto on/off feature, creditcard-
style remote, and learningremote
feature to enable control
from a TV’s remote. Pricing was
unavailable.

LG: The company is expanding
its assortment of HTiBs
equipped with 3D Blu-ray player
to four from three with the
launch of four new 3D Blu-ray
5.1-speaker HTiBs, all incorporating
LG’s SmartTV platform to
access online audio and video
services. They ship in February.

Philips (P&F USA): Four
new HTiBs from a suggested
$149 to $499 leave audio and
video switching to the connected TV.

They start with the $149-suggested DVD-equipped
HTS3531 with 5.1 speaker system, HDMI 1.3a output,
Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding, and 3.5mm audio aux in.
It’s due in March.

At $199, the HTS3541 5.1 system adds 2D Blu-ray
player and decoding of such Blu-ray surround formats
as Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and dts-HD Master
Essentials. It also features HDMI 1.3a out, 3.5mm
aux in, Wi-Fi and an expanded selection of streaming
services. New services are YouTube, Picassa and
downloadable updates.

Those services join Netflix, Vudu HD Movies, Facebook,
Pandora, V-Tuner, Blockbuster On Demand and
more. The system also gets embedded games for the first
time, with more than a dozen available. It ships in March.

At $299 and due in June, the HTS5307 comes with
the $199 model’s features but adds 3D Blu-ray player,
HDMI 1.4a output without audio return channel, Apple
AirPlay and DLNA. It also steps up output to 1,000
watts from 300 watts, adds audio source switching,
and adds MediaConnect technology to turn a TV into
a wireless PC or Mac monitor.

With PC/laptop software and wireless dongle supplied
by Philips, consumers will be able to transmit exact
images of a PC screen through the HTiB to a connected
TV. The TV screen will duplicate exactly what
appears on the PC screen, including web browsing
sessions, PowerPoint presentations and the like.

At $499, the 2.1-speaker CSS 9216, called the
SoundHub, lacks a disc player but delivers virtual surround
sound via two left-right speakers. It also features
a 3.5mm aux in, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoders,
and HDMI 1.3a output.

To deliver virtual surround, the CSS9216 packs
three drivers in each of its two brushed-metal satellite
speakers. One driver fires forward, and two fire to the
side at an angle to project immersive sound around
you. In addition, the system uses a proprietary algorithm
to further enhance the surround effect, the company
said. The system uses soft-dome tweeters, neodymium
magnets and Class D amplification.

Blu-ray players and analog game consoles connect
to the system via digital optical in, digital coaxial input,
and two auxiliary inputs.