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Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Multiroom Come To More Soundbars

Unit sales of soundbars are still growing, though at a slower pace because of flattening TV-unit sales and a refocusing by suppliers and retailers away from promoting TV/soundbar bundles.

Despite slower unit growth, suppliers continue to update their soundbars, bringing Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, wireless multiroom audio, and HDMI switching to more models while experimenting with new form factors.

New form factors include three-channel bars mated with slim-line multichannel AVRs. They’re from Onkyo, Integra and Pioneer. Denon is also developing such a package.

Also at the show, Klipsch and LG will show their first Dolby Atmos-equipped bars, joining two models from Samsung and one previously announced by Gibson Innovations’ Philips brand. That model is due early this year.

For their part, Onkyo and Pioneer will play up their first soundbar systems that mate Atmos/DTS:X-decoding AVRs with passive bars. Yamaha already offers a pair of active bars with built-in Atmos and DTS:X.

The products enter a market whose 2017 U.S. unit shipments are forecast by Futuresource Consulting to grow by 7 percent to 8.2 million, though dollar volume at the retail level will be down 0.3 percent to $1.53 billion. The company estimates 2016 unit-shipment growth of 13 percent and retail-level dollar growth of 5.4 percent, down from 2014’s 49 percent shipment gain and 45 percent dollar gain.

The statistics include under-TV speaker bases, which “are now practically non-existent,” said analyst Rasika D’Souza.

Soundbar growth slowed in 2016 because of flattening TV unit sales and because retailers scaled back TV-soundbar bundling promotions, she added. “Initially it [bundling] was done to promote soundbars and grow its popularity,” said D’Souza. “But it’s not particularly profitable.”

Here’s what’s new from suppliers:

Bluesound: The $999 Pulse is the brand’s first bar with proprietary wireless-multiroom BluOS and the industry’s first with high-res MQA decoding.

Integra: The $1,200-suggested DLB-5 consists of a slim-line Dolby Atmos/DTS:X AVR that drives a passive bar with three front-firing channels and two upward-firing height drivers. The surround channels are virtual.

Jamo: Two new bars feature Danish-inspired design. One is an all-in-one model with embedded sub, and a 40-inch-wide bar features wireless sub.

JBL: The 2.1-channel, 200-watt Cinema SB450 features Dolby Digital, three HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2, one HDMI out with ARC, wireless 8-inch sub, Bluetooth, virtual surround, IR learning for control from a TV remote, and IR repeater output. A pair of portable Bluetooth speakers with JBL Connect can be used as surrounds.

Klipsch Audio: The company will expand its soundbar selection with products that include its first Dolby Atmos bar and some new form factors. The Atmos bar is the TheaterBar TB-1, a 48-inch-wide 3.1.2 model with virtual surround, DTS Play-Fi, and HDMI 2.0 or 2.0a with HDCP 2.2. The brand is also evaluating DTS:X.

LG: Seven new bars include the company’s first Atmos bar, an expanded selection of high-res bars, and LG’s first two bars with optional wireless surround speakers.

The company is also dropping Music Flow wireless-multiroom technology from its latest bars to go strictly with Google Cast. The company will not introduce new wireless-multiroom speakers.

The Atmos-equipped SJ9 features three two-way front-firing speakers, two up-firing height drivers, and two side-firing surround drivers.

The bars ship in early March.

Monitor Audio: The company’s $750 100-watt two-channel ASB-10 features optional wireless sub, Bluetooth aptX, AirPlay, Dolby Digital, Dolby Virtual Speaker, optical and coaxial inputs, and USB port, which provides 5-volt power to streaming-media dongles. The $650 sub can be positioned vertically and horizontally.

Onkyo: The SBT-A500 networked soundbar system consists of a slim-line 5.1-channel AVR with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding, a passive soundbar with three front-firing channels and two upfiring channels. Surround channels are delivered via virtual surround processing. Pricing was unavailable.

Pioneer: The Atmos- and DTS:X-equipped Elite-series FS-EB70 soundbar system is due in the first quarter at around $1,000. It is similar to the Onkyo model.

Samsung: New bars include the HW-M750, which combines front-facing drivers, integrated sub, and top-firing speakers that heighten the sound stage via a spatial-positioning algorithm. The bar can be mounted to a TV.