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The ability to include surround sound in digital broadcasts is part of what makes digital TV stand out from analog broadcasting. A DVD or Bluray® player also delivers wonderful audio technology that can make your living room sound like a virtual theater. In both cases there's just one catch: your high-definition television (HDTV) must be connected to an entertainment receiver with a 5:1 surround sound speaker system. For those who would like the effect of surround sound without filling the room with speakers, you might consider a sound bar.
A sound bar is a single, slimline, elongated speaker system with one or more discrete speakers within. Some systems are designed to deliver expanded stereo sound with a built-in amplifier, making it unnecessary to connect the sound bar to a receiver. Other systems are designed to deliver a surround-like experience. On-board digital processors decode incoming 5:1 tracks, processing the signal for the system to create virtual surround sound by using various delay, pitch and placement algorithms.
So-called "passive" systems lack an internal amplifier, intended for use with a receiver. Some people prefer using a receiver, believing it to be ‘cleaner’ power. Another advantage of using a receiver with a sound bar is that one can utilize the added digital processing included in the receiver for simulating various acoustic environments.
The advantage of built-in amplification is that a receiver is not required, saving money, and the system can be mounted directly under or over a wall-mounted LCD without having to run wires to a receiver. This provides a cleaner look that works especially well in smaller rooms such as a bedroom. If the flat panel is on a stand, the sound bar might fit below it, on top of the stand’s footing, measurements allowing.
A sound bar typically comes paired with a subwoofer for delivering base frequencies. On many systems the woofer is wireless, allowing it to be tucked away anywhere in the room. One can chose someplace discreet, as the ear cannot locate the direction of extremely low frequencies, making them sound as if they are coming from "everywhere" regardless of placement. Running audio cables to a woofer, on the other hand, can be aesthetically problematic. There is one restriction, however; the subwoofer will still need to be plugged into an A/C outlet.
If the system will be used in a small room, you can save money by opting for a less powerful system. For larger rooms, consider a more powerful sound bar. Systems made with “beaming” technology are designed for use in modest-sized, square rooms where the walls are used to help create the surround effect by bouncing certain sounds off rear and side walls. This type of technology will not be effective in an open floor plan, but other types of processing are designed for use in open rooms.
A sound bar can be a much-appreciated investment that will likely surprise owners with its quality, greatly improving listening experience over the modest speakers that come built into HDTVs. Sound bars range in price from about $100 - $500 US Dollars (USD) or more. Read user reviews, consider where the system will go, and know what type of connectors you require, as the type and number of ports varies from model to model. Look for a paired subwoofer to deliver those lows, and you might opt for a wireless sub if the pocketbook allows.