Today's flat-screen TV's look great, but tend to sound somewhat less than that. The move to very thin cabinets is certainly one reason why -- without some fancy and pricey sonic trickery, there's only so much "presence" you can expect from speakers that are squeezed down to fit. On the other hand, less-than-stellar TV sound is nothing new. Even back in the day when "large-screen" 25-inch sets came in cabinets that needed a forklift to be moved, TV makers typically treated sound as an afterthought as well -- mating the best picture their engineers could produce with speakers that would have been more appropriate in a clock radio. So then, what's one to do if they want a TV setup that sounds as good as it looks? Judging by recently released sales data, for many, the answer is a sleek sound bar.
Sound bar sales double in 2011
As reported by Twice, a study by FutureSource Consulting reveals that sound bar sales doubled in 2011 when compared with 2010. The big reason is a shift by makers from targeting those who want high-end sound without the muss and bother of lots of speakers and wires, to focusing instead on average consumers who are willing to pay a modest premium for better sound than is possible from most current LCD TVs and plasma TVs, but not go all the way toward a full-blown home theater setup. Worldwide, the U.S. is the leader when it comes to sound bar adoption, and two-thirds of the growth in sound bar sales can be found in North America.
Is a sound bar right for your?
Still, as we note in our report on sound bars, most are a compromise. Sound quality typically won't measure up to what you'll hear with a good home-theater receiver and quality home-theater speakers. You also won't hear all that convincing a surround-sound field in most -- but not all -- cases.
But for many, the compromises sound bars ask are worthwhile. Not everyone has the means or desire to fill a living space with up to 7 speakers, plus a subwoofer and the required connecting cables. Poor sounding sound bars are out there, but except for the very cheapest ones, it's actually easier to find sound bars that perform to the high side of very good, especially for TV watching. The prices of many are reasonable, especially when you consider that you don't need supporting electronics, such as a home-theater receiver, to make it all go -- and set up is simple.
Our report on sound bars highlights some worthwhile options to consider. Sony's HT-CT150 has a well-established track-record. You won't get much in the way of a surround-sound field, but coupled with the included subwoofer, audio quality is surprisingly good considering its price tag. The Vizio VHT510 (shown above) is similar but is a hybrid system that also includes small rear-channel speakers to produce true surround. While that adds to the number of "boxes" in your setup, a wireless link between the front half (the sound bar itself) and the rear half (powered subwoofer and rear surround speakers) of the system means you don't need to string speaker wire all over the place.
You can learn more about these and lots of other sound bar choices in our report, and decide for yourself if one is right for you.