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Buying a soundbar can provide the consumer with a nice solution for enhancing the sound of an HD TV. They offer an audio experience that is much more immersive, most are easy to use and they can come with all sorts of features for things like listening to music.
If you are looking to purchase a soundbar for your home viewing center, you are going to find that there are a vast array of different models to choose from and they all have features that can be beneficial in different ways.
For some consumers, certain features may be confusing or they might not completely understand the benefits that may come with the different features. The following guide will explain many of the features that different soundbars have and it should help most consumers in their decision-making process.
soundbar channels explained
When you compare sound systems, one of the factors that can help to set the different models apart is the number of speaker channels. The channels on a sound system refer to the number of different audio signals that the system can send out. As an example, a system that has 2-channel audio is a regular stereo with a right and left channel. If you go further to 3-channel sound, then it may have an independent signal for a center speaker. Additionally, you have systems that go 5-channel and beyond for watching movies in surround sound.
If you are talking about a system that is designed for watching movies and television shows, when you see that it has four channels or more and surround sound decoding, that means that the system can decode and transmit independent signals for speakers that surround the viewing area. If you have a 5-channel surround sound system, then you would have three front speaker channels for the center, right, and left and you would have two rear channels for speakers to the rear left and rear right.
Now just because a sound system has four or more channels, that does not necessarily mean that it has a true surround. It might still only operate on 2-channel decoding and the different channels are intended to control the different tones and the range of the speakers in different ways. While it may not have true surround sound, the ability of the system to control and separate the sounds can provide better sound quality and this added level of control can also be used to produce a more effective virtual surround sound effect.
With many soundbar systems, you will also see that the unit has a decimal point in the channel listing, like models with 2.1 or 5.1-channel sound. When you see this, it means that the system has a low-frequency channel for a subwoofer. Some systems come with a subwoofer and some do not. Many consumers prefer to have a subwoofer because it provides the full range of low-end audio and it adds impact to sounds that need to hit with a little extra force.
The different soundbars will also come with various audio features to improve performance or to make the system more versatile. These are features that can make a significant difference in regard to how the system performs, so they are worth considering through the course of your decision-making process.
With all of the speakers in the main enclosure, most soundbars will not offer a true surround sound effect, but they may come with features like virtual surround or 3D sound. These effects create the effect by controlling the speakers in ways that give the feeling of sound coming from multiple directions. Like with a virtual surround, the system will try to reflect the sound off the walls to make it seem like the sound is actually coming from locations other than the soundbar and it is very much the same with 3D sound. The main difference with 3D sound is that it goes beyond trying to simulate the effect of sound coming from in front, behind, and the sides and it adds the dimension of sound that also seems like it is coming from above and below the viewer.
Another popular audio feature in soundbars is a dialogue enhancement feature. This is basically an effect where the system picks out the audio for the dialogue in the movie or TV show and it processes the sound in a way that makes the voices easier to distinguish and understand. This can be a nice feature because, with many shows and movies, the voices can be hard to hear above all of the background sound effects and music that could be in the program.
Blu-ray and DVD players
The vast majority of soundbars will not come equipped with things like Blu-ray and DVD players, but there are some models in the sound base category that may have this feature.
It can be a nice option for people that are looking for a device that also adds some content options. If you already have a Blu-ray player, then you might not find this to be a big value as an additional feature, but it is definitely something to consider if the model that you like comes with it.
Bluetooth has become a rather common feature on soundbars. Bluetooth is good for streaming music from devices like a Smartphone, tablet, or laptop. In most cases, you can use Bluetooth to stream music from the files on the device and you can also use it to play music content from popular online streaming services like Spotify.
In addition to streaming music, many of the manufacturers also make remote control apps for mobile devices. The remote control apps will vary from one manufacturer to the next, but the general idea is that it is supposed to simplify and streamline the operation of the system.
Another feature that is starting to become more common in soundbars is the ability to expand the system for multi-room capabilities. With systems that have this feature, the consumer can buy a set of wireless speakers that connect with the soundbar and use the unit to play music in any room in the house.
With most of these units, you will need the mobile remote app to control multi-room functions. With the app, you will be able to set up playlists and different speaker zones that will play from the desired source. With a good multi-room system, the user should be able to select different audio sources for different speaker zones. As an example, one person could set a pair of speakers in the kitchen to play music while another person is still able to use the soundbar speakers to watch TV.
Wireless TV Connections
The user is always going to have the option to connect their soundbar to the TV through a cable, but there are some models that offer wireless connectivity. The one issue with this feature is that it has to be a TV that is the same brand as the soundbar and a model that is compatible with this option.
It is a nice feature because it makes the setup easier and it makes for a neater system with fewer wires and cables running from place to place, but it is not an absolute necessity. The consumer can still do well by connecting through an optical cable or an HDMI.
HDMI Options of a soundbar
Not every soundbar is going to come with HDMI connections and just because a system lacks this feature, that does not automatically make it any less worthwhile of a product to consider. However, there are a lot of ways that an assortment of HDMI ports can make the system better.
One good example of how this can be nice is if you have a soundbar with an ARC-enabled HDMI for connecting to the TV and few regular HDMI inputs for connecting components like gaming systems and DVD players. If an HDMI has an audio return channel, it means that it can not only send video and audio from the soundbar to the TV but that it can also take the audio signal from the television and send it to the soundbar. This way, the user can have all of the sounds from the television and any component that is connected to the television going to the soundbar and they can have components hooked up to the sound system that will also transmit audio and video to the TV. With this option, you can have the soundbar or the television acting as the switching hub for your components.
Many soundbars will also come with HDMI ports that are CEC compatible. With this option, the user will be able to control the TV and the soundbar with one remote control. Additionally, if you have a Blu-ray player or a set-top box that is CEC compatible, then you might be able to control all of these devices from one remote. It can make the home entertainment center much more convenient. Instead of switching around from two or three different remotes, the user can operate everything they need to with just the remote from the TV.
Another factor that you are going to want to consider if you go with a soundbar with HDMI ports is the level of HDMI pass-through that the system has. If you plug a 4k source into the soundbar, will it pass the 4k signal onto the TV? Almost every soundbar with HDMI ports is going to have pass-through for at least Full HD, so you probably will not need to worry about that, but if you have a 4k or 3D TV and sources to match, then you will want to make sure that the soundbar can pass these features on to the television.
soundbar USB Ports
Many of the newer sound bars will also come equipped with a USB port, but the function of the port can vary significantly from one model to the next. With many soundbars, the USB is only there to provide a means to install software updates for the system. While this may be an important function, it does not really add anything to the user experience.
With some soundbars, the USB might provide the capability to play content from an external drive. In some cases, this might be a way to play music files from your PC, but there are a few that have support for different video and image formats. If this is a feature that interests you, then it is recommended that you check the product specs to determine the functional capabilities of the drive.
Internet Connectivity of a soundbar
Consumers will find that a few sound bars come with the ability to connect with their home network. This is another feature that can add some nice options to the system. One option that this feature will provide is the ability to interact with other devices on the network. It can be another way to play content from network devices like tablets, laptops, phones, and desktop computers. Additionally, a network connection may provide access to certain internet features. The device might come with software to connect with different internet streaming services for music and it could be a way for the soundbar to receive automatic software updates.
On the higher end of the market, there are a few models that can connect to the internet for Smart TV features. This could provide access to things like TV catch-up, movies on demand, and services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. This feature can be a big value bonus if you don’t have a Smart TV or a device that enables Smart features for the TV. It is by no means a common feature, but it can really expand the versatility of the soundbar.
Design of a soundbar
Soundbars can also come with a variety of design features that can make them better for different types of TVs or more convenient for placement. The difference between getting a traditional bar-shaped soundbar or a sound base style system could be important depending on the needs of the consumer. Additionally, you have options like curved soundbars, which will be better for people that own curved TVs.
The major differences when it comes to the sound bar and the sound base is that the sound base is designed to support the weight of a television whereas a soundbar does not have this capability. Additionally, a soundbar will usually have the option of being wall-mounted, but a sound base is intended to sit on a stand or shelf. Generally, people that have their TV mounted on the wall will prefer a soundbar because they can mount the unit on the wall with the television. However, many consumers that have their TV on a stand prefer the sound base style units because they can be placed under the set instead of having to be placed in front of it.
The option of a curved soundbar is another relatively new development. The idea is to provide the consumer with a sound system that better matches the shape of the TV. The shape is not intended to alter the sound in any way; the curved design is just to make the unit less noticeable when paired with a curved TV.