Polk: SurroundBar Delivers HTiB Promises

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Baltimore — Polk is positioning its $1,199-suggested SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater as delivering unmet claims of the simplicity promised by home theater in a box (HTiB) systems but never provided.

SurroundBar 360 deliveries begin in September to national chains, regional specialists, and installers, who have shown interest in the system because they can attach it to a flat-panel TV installed on a wall, said co-founder Matthew Polk. The company is working with dealers to develop in-store displays to demonstrate the two-piece surround-sound system.

The gloss-black system consists of a 4.1-inch by 44.5-inch by 4.88-inch speaker, which is placed above or below a flat-panel TV, and a 3.2- by 16.5- by 11.5-inch console, which is equipped with embedded DVD/CD player, AM/FM tuner, amplification, surround processor and an active version of Polk’s proprietary SDA (Stereo Dimensional Array) Surround technology to deliver surround sound through the speaker’s eight drivers.

HTiBs, said Polk, “promised simplicity to the customer, but they were really just component audio systems with the quality dumbed down.” HTiBs, he continued, “still had the same setup and hookup issues, but they were just easier to buy because they were in one box.”

The SurroundBar, on the other hand, brings buying and setup simplicity to a “technology-transparent” surround system that’s ideal for secondary rooms such as bedrooms or home offices, he said. The system is easy to set up because it consists of only two pieces connected by a single cable. Because all speakers are up front in one enclosure, he continued, consumers don’t have to set the levels or delay times of individual speakers as they do in a traditional 5.1-channel system. And unlike some other virtual-surround systems, this one doesn’t force consumers to precisely position separate left and right speakers to bounce surround signals off side walls to create surround effects.

Consumers also don’t need a powered subwoofer because the system delivers “useful response to the low-40Hz region,” Polk said, although the system nonetheless features a subwoofer output if consumers want to add one.

He called the SurroundBar 360 “the most difficult product I ever designed.”

Although it delivers surround sound, the SurroundBar “is not trying to replicate five freestanding in-room speakers, Polk said. Instead, the SDA technology creates a “360-degree sound stage” whose imaging “is more seamless” from front to side and back. “It’s like having dozens of speakers,” he said.

The active SurroundBar complements two passive models that lack amplification, tuner and DVD player and use a passive version of Polk’s SDA technology. The passive systems are intended for use with component-audio systems.

Because the SurroundBar 360 uses active SDA technology, it provides “a bit more continuous” soundfield, a larger sweet spot and deeper bass, Polk noted.

To deliver 360-degree surround from a single front eight-driver speaker, SDA technology creates “out-of-phase signals that cancel the signals telling you that the speaker is in front,” Polk said. Then the system introduces signals that create the perception that sounds are coming from the sides and back of listeners.

The SurroundBar launch marks only the second time that Polk has offered a surround-sound system complete with speakers and electronics. In 1996 or 1997, the company launched a $2,500 system consisting of a Marantz-sourced preamp/processor, speakers and a subwoofer incorporating all of the system’s amplification.

A decade later, the HTiB market had evolved to include active and passive surround-bar systems ranging in price from $500 to $1,600, said product manager Al Baron. In fact, he said, “surround bars are their own category now.” Just two years ago, only three surround bars were available, but that has grown to almost 20 active and passive models. “It is a solution for a significant number of people. They see it and understand it,” he said of their growing popularity.

The new system’s speaker comes with key-hole slots for on-wall mounting, separate cradle mounts for placing it on a shelf above or below the TV, and HDMI output for connection to a flat-panel TV. The system also features Faroudja DCDi 1080i up-scaling of DVD video and all connected video sources.

A USB Host input allows for control and playback of MP3 files stored on connected flash-memory iPods and other-brand flash-memory MP3 players. It also enables playback of music and images stored on USB drives.


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