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

Bose Solo 15

Bose Solo 15 TV Sound System

HDTVs 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 HDTVs produce mediocre or poor sound quality.

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


Soundbars 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 soundbar on the TV cabinet, be sure the soundbar 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 soundbar, or use the wall mount option.

Yamaha YAS 101 sound bar

Yamaha YAS 201 soundbar

Features to Look For…

There are two main types of soundbars designs. The traditional design 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 without a subwoofer. A subwoofer produces the bass sounds you hear in movies and music. To get the best overall and balanced sound quality, choose a soundbar with a subwoofer.

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

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

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

Amplified or Passive

LG NBN36 Sound Bar

LG NBN36 Sound Bar

Most soundbars are of the amplified type meaning the amplifier that produces the soundbar’s audio is built into the enclosure. I highly recommend you stick with this type which simplifies your connection process. The passive type requires outboard amplification to power the soundbar which can complicate the connection process.

Built-in Bluetooth

Bluetooth-enabled soundbars will allow you to connect wirelessly to your soundbar via your smartphone or tablet and stream music directly to your soundbar. 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 soundbar systems from Amazon…

Surround Sound  Systems

To get an even more enveloping sound while watching your flat panel display, choose a pre-matched surround system (Home Theater in a Box or 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 separate’s component 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 footprint when placed in your viewing area.

This type of system is ideal for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of space for components and large speakers and who wishes 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.


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


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 discs and give you uncompressed high-quality detailed sound to go with the high-def picture on your TV.

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X  Object-Based Spatial Sound

These two codecs allow for sound to be placed in a more precise position in the sound field and is not tied to a particular channel. And with the right gear ( A/V receiver/ speakers), you can hear the movie’s score and special effects above, beside, in front of, and behind you. You will need an A/V receiver that will decode and process Dolby Atoms and DTS:X surround codecs.

To get the most convincing audio effects with Dolby Atmos, use in-ceiling speakers placed in the front and rear of your home theater setup.  Another option that works well is using upward-firing speakers that are placed on top of your existing floor-standing or bookshelf speakers. These speakers are designed for object-based sound and are angled towards the ceiling and will bounce sound effects down to your seating positions.

There are also soundbars options available that will provide virtual Dolby Atmos sound effects.

If you don’t have the room or just don’t want or have the desire for an additional speaker setup for a Dolby Atmos setup, you can use Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization Technology. This is surround sound processing that takes place within an A/V receiver that has Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization processing as an option. But I must mention this option only provides a pseudo-Dolby Atmos effect and will not be as sonically effective as a true Dolby Atmos setup.

A DTS:X setup will require the same speaker configurations used in a Dolby Atmos setup to achieve the best object-based sound effects. However, DTS:X offers other options to experience DTS:X – DTS offers DTS:X decoding in certain TVs as well as select soundbars. What I also like about DTS:X is that you can experience DTS:X using a conventional 5.1 or 7.1 speaker system, without having to add extra speakers as with Dolby Atmos. But remember you will still need a dedicated speaker setup to achieve the best object-based sound effects.

Shop for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X speakers at Amazon.com.

For more info on Dolby Atmos click here.
For more info on DTS:X click here.

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 parameters to best suit the setup of your rooms.

Click here to see surround sound systems from Amazon…

Final thoughts…

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 soundbar 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 soundbars or surround sound systems… please leave your comments below.

Updated on 2/5/2023


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