Cutting the Chord: Virtual Surround Sound Systems
Want surround sound, but don't have the room for a stack of speakers? These stylish soundbars can pump your living room with the next best thing — virtual surround sound. By bouncing sound beams off your living room walls, these one-box components trick your ears into thinking you have a full 5.1-channel set up. In addition to eliminating the clutter of cables behind your entertainment center, some of them also offer iPod connectivity, integrated DVD players, and satellite radio. Granted, they're more expensive than conventinal low- to mid-range home theater systems, but their clean lines and wide sound spectrum are worth the investment if you don't want to box yourself in a forest of cables and satellites.
Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-4000
Surround sound from one speaker? That's what Yamaha's latest Digital Sound Projector YSP-4000 ($1,599.95 + $0 s&h at Amazon.com) promises. This one-box wonder is the company's top-of-the-line soundbar, engulfing your room with virtual surround sound. The latest edition is smart enough to calibrate itself, so that its audio beams cover your entire room and give you the closest 5.1 experience possible. The system has a built-in amplifier and delivers 120 watts of power. It decodes Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS Neo:6. Inputs include two HDMI, two component, two optical, and three RCA video connections. The system is even XM-ready and sports a front panel mini jack for hooking up your MP3 player.
Denon DHT-FS3 Home Theater System
Unlike Yamaha's YSP-4000, Denon couples its DHT-FS3 Home Theater System ($1,198.95 + $0 s&h at Vanns.com) with an ultra-slim subwoofer for a total of 150 watts of power. Coated in a glossy black finish, this two-piece system has enough panache to make your HDTV jealous, and rightfully so as it can decode Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, and Dolby Headphone audio formats. There's no XM tuner inside this shiny beast nor do you get HDMI connectivity — the DHT-FS3 only has two RCA video, one coaxial, and two optical inputs — but what the DHT-FS3 can offer is extra bass thanks to the 40-watt subwoofer.
Philips HTS8100 AmbiSound Home Theater Sound Bar
Hot on the heels of Denon and Yamaha is Philips' HTS8100 AmbiSound Home Theater Sound Bar ($569.99 + $0 s&h at newegg.com), which in addition to a separate subwoofer, also packs a built-in, 1080p-upscaling DVD player. Design-wise, the AmbiSound is cut from the same cloth as its counterparts complimenting most of today's flat-panel TVs. The system supports Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II formats and also comes with an FM tuner, iPod dock, and a USB Direct port, which lets you play music or display photos directly from your USB drive. On the system's rear side you'll find HDMI, component, and RCA video connections. Budget-conscious shoppers won't be disappointed sticking with this system. If you can wait until May, Philips will be releasing the AmbiSound HTS6100 ($599) and HTS6515D ($499) soundbars. Both come with integrated DVD players, but only the HTS6100 includes a subwoofer.
Polk Audio SurroundBar 50
You'll need a separate receiver to power Polk's 150-watt SurroundBar 50 ($999.99 + $0 s&h at Crutchfield.com), but this 51-inch speaker claims to deliver full, 360-degree wrap around sound care of the nine drivers it has nestled inside. The unit comes with a 15-foot, ten-connector cable that's color-coded for easy set up with your receiver. Feature-wise, it's not as complex as its competition so you're better off with one of the other systems if you want an all-inclusive unit. Or you can wait for the company's new SurroundBar 360 ($1,199.95), which was just revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show and comes with a separate console that houses a 1080i upconverting DVD player, HDMI output, and signal amp. Likewise, you might want to settle for the smaller SurroundBar ($599 + $0 s&h at CircuitCity.com) if you have s smaller TV, otherwise the SurroundBar 50 can be mounted above or below your flat-panel TV.
Samsung HT-X810 Home Theater Sound Bar
Fresh out of CES, Samsung's new sound bar is loaded with features and might be worth the wait if it works as promised. The new HT-X810 Home Theater Sound Bar delivers 300 total watts of power and includes an upconverting 1080p DVD player. But what's piqued our interest the most is the system's subwoofer, which will use 5.8GHz wireless technology to connect to the sound bar sans wires. The system will also offer Bluetooth support and DivX playback. No word yet on pricing, although we assume it won't come cheap.
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