HDTV Add-Ons: Choosing a Sound Bar and Surround Sound System

Bose Solo 15

Bose Solo 15 TV Sound System

HDTV’s have become the norm for most U.S. households. And according to research done by the Leichtman Research Group, 75% of U.S. homes have at least one HDTV.

The majority of these televisions are likely to be of the flat panel variety. This design leaves very little space for audio speakers that are able to produce full bodied high quality sound. In fact, most flat panel HDTV’s produce mediocre or poor sound quality.

However, you do not have to live with this inferior sound reproduction. Two options for better sound include sound bars and pre-matched surround sound systems, also known as Home Theaters in a Box (HTiB).

Sound Bars

Sound bars are compact speaker systems used to enhance the sound quality of your flat panel HDTV. They can be placed on the same cabinet as your TV or mounted on the wall beneath your wall mounted television. If you are going to place your sound bar on the TV cabinet, be sure the sound bar does not block the remote sensor on the front of your display. If this is going to be an issue, you will need a cabinet with shelves below the top of your cabinet to place your sound bar, or use the wall mount option.

Yamaha YAS 101 sound bar

Yamaha YAS 201 sound bar

Features to Look For…

There are two  main types of sound bars designs. The traditional design which is the long, slim rectangular type that looks like a bar, and the pedestal type that sits under your TV, which actually looks like a TV stand.

The traditional design can be had with or with-out a subwoofer. A subwoofer produces the bass sounds you hear in movies and music. To get the best over-all and balanced sound quality, choose a sound bar with a subwoofer.

Many sound bar systems have wireless connectivity for the subwoofer. Consider this option if you want to eliminate a hardwired subwoofer connection to your sound bar. Some sound bars come in different sizes (lengths) of the same model to mate with your TV’s screen size.

If you want your sound bar to reproduce simulated surround sound, choose a model that has virtual surround sound mode options. These sound bars typically have several speakers mounted within the speaker enclosure to produce the simulated surround.

To keep your installation simple, choose a sound bar that has a digital optical audio input which will connect to your TV’s optical output. Some sound bars have a digital coaxial audio input which provides the same functionality as an optical input, which may be useful if connecting the sound bar to a device with this type of connection. Some sound bars also provide stereo RCA analog inputs connections to use with like-wise devices.

Amplified or Passive

LG NBN36 Sound Bar

LG NBN36 Sound Bar

Most sound bars are of the amplified  type meaning the amplifier that produces the sound bars audio is built into the enclosure. I highly recommend you stick with this type which simplifies your connection process. The passive type requires out board amplification to power the sound bar which can complicate the connection process.

Built-in Bluetooth

Bluetooth enabled sound bars will allow you to connect wirelessly to your sound bar via your smartphone or table and stream music directly to your sound bar. It works with any music stored on your phone and any music app. If you listen to music primarily through your phone, this is a must have feature.

Click here to see available sound bar systems from Amazon…

 

Surround Sound  Systems

To get even more enveloping sound while watching your flat panel display, choose a pre-matched surround system (HTiB). Pre-matched means the A/V receiver and the speakers are bundled together  to create an all-in-one system.

This design will give you up to a 7.1 audio setup with speakers optimally placed in your viewing environment. (The “seven” in 7.1 identifies the seven satellite speakers and the .1 identifies the single subwoofer speaker.)

If you really want the best in audio quality, go for a full blown surround sound system with separate components (A/V receiver, blu-ray player and speakers all purchased separately). However, this type of system can be very large and space consuming and requires extensive setup. A separates’ system can also be very costly depending on the components you choose.

For an illustrated guide to assist you in speaker placement for a 5.1, 7.1 and 9.1 surround sound setup, see these illustrations from Dolby Labs website.

Sony Bravia DAV-DZ170 Home Theater System

Sony Bravia DAV-DZ170
Home Theater System

Features to Look For…

Pre-matched systems are usually compact in design and have a small foot print when placed in your viewing area.

This type of system is idea for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of space for components and  large speakers and who wish to have their A/V system keep a low profile within the viewing environment.

If you don’t have a blu-ray player or need a second player, choose a system with the blu-ray player built-into the receiver. If you don’t need an additional player, choose a surround system with a standalone receiver. To simplify your speaker connections choose a system with wireless rear surround speakers.

If 3D viewing is your thing, look for a system that supports this capability.

Wi-Fi

Choose a pre-matched system that allows  you to connect to your homes wireless network to stream web content from services like Netflix, YouTube and Pandora.

Inputs

If you want to connect additional gear to your system, like a cable box or a gaming console and etc., then you should check to make sure it has the type and number of audio, video and other inputs you’ll need… such as HDMI, digital optical or coaxial, component video, composite video, stereo RCA analog, USB and Ethernet.

Onkyo HT-S3500 Home Theater System

Onkyo HT-S3500 Home Theater System

Lossless Surround Sound Formats (High Resolution Audio)

All home theater receivers support 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS audio. Many also offer built-in decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master 7.1 audio. These two high resolution surround sound formats  are encoded on blu-ray disc and give you uncompressed high quality detailed sound to go with the high-def picture on your TV.

Automatic Speaker Calibration (Room Correction)

With automatic calibration, you simply place the speakers in designated  positions within your room and plug an included microphone into the receiver. The receiver plays test tones and “listens” to your speakers, adjusting their settings and sets parameters to best suit your rooms setup.

Click here to see surround sound systems from Amazon…

Wrap-Up

Enjoying  a movie or your favorite TV show in HD on your flat panel display will only give you half of the entertainment experience if you don’t have the enhanced  audio quality to go with your awesome  HDTV image. Choosing a sound bar or surround sound system will complete this circle. Which in turn will give you the best possible audio/video experience in your home.

Have any questions or comments about sound bars or surround sound systems… please leave your comments below.

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