Home audio

Samsung prices its 2014 home theater line, including $300 Samsung Shape M5

Samsung got a jump on CES 2014 this year by pre-announcing its sound bars, Giga Systems, and a wireless speaker in early January. But like many CES announcements, there weren't many details.

Samsung filled in major gaps today, announcing pricing and availability for its core line of home theater products. The major product lineup shapes up like this:

Wireless speaker Samsung Shape M5 speaker: $300; spring

Sound bars Samsung HW-H750: $800, spring Samsung HW-H600 (Sound Stand): $400; March

Giga Systems Samsung MX-HS9000: $1,500; spring Samsung MX-HS8500: $1,300; spring

For more information on the features of these systems, … Read more

HDMI vs. optical: Which digital-audio connection to use?

When it comes time to connect your shiny new sound bar or AV receiver, your two main choices are HDMI or optical digital audio.

The simplest advice is to go with HDMI when you can. But if you can't it's not the end of the world.

Here are the pros and cons of each.… Read more

CES 2014's home theater gear is the same, but better, and that's a good thing (wrap-up)

Living room tech always has a big presence at CES, but progress can often seem frustratingly slow, especially while other product categories make big leaps forward year after year.

CES 2014 was a refreshing change of pace, as I was surprised to find quite a few interesting home audio and video products on the show floor. While nothing was truly groundbreaking, there's lots of solid, incremental progress that should be showing up in home theater gear in 2014. And that's a lot more exciting than "concept" products that never make it to store shelves.

Over-the-air DVRs … Read more

Sony's SRS-X9 wireless speaker handles high-res audio, Bluetooth, AirPlay, and more

LAS VEGAS -- When I hear the phrase "Bluetooth speaker," I think tinny, compressed sound that's at best good enough, but typically underwhelming.

Sony is clearly aiming in another direction with its newly announced wireless speakers, including the flagship SRS-X9. Sony touts it as the first wireless speaker to support high-resolution audio playback, and while that may be a stretch, it's certainly one of only a few.

Aside from high-res audio, the SRS-X9 supports just about every wireless feature you can imagine, including Bluetooth, aptX, NFC, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and DLNA. There's also a built-in USB … Read more

LG's Sound Plate is a minimalist all-in-one sound bar with built-in Blu-ray

LAS VEGAS -- Pedestal-style sound bars are flourishing at CES 2014, and LG's latest model appears to one-up them all.

The new LG LAB540W Sound Plate sound bar is designed to sit under your TV, but unlike similar models from Zvox and Bose, the LAB540W also includes a wireless subwoofer and a built-in Blu-ray player.

The Sound Plate sits just 1.56 inches tall, and it's designed to match TVs with screens measuring from 32 to 55 inches. LG refers to it as a 320-watt, 4.1 channel system, although you're unlikely to get much more than … Read more

Vizio's Android-powered Portable Smart Audio streamers aren't your typical Bluetooth speaker

LAS VEGAS -- Bluetooth speakers will be everywhere at CES 2014, but Vizio has an interesting spin on the ubiquitous product category.

Vizio announced two Portable Smart Audio players today, combining the form factor of a Bluetooth speaker with Android-powered software and a large LCD touch-screen display. Two models will be offered, in 4.7-inch and 7-inch screen sizes, each capable of running many popular apps available on Android KitKat, including music, video, and gaming apps.

Both speakers have similar features, powered by a quad-core processor. There's built-in Wi-Fi (802.11n) for streaming directly from the Web, plus built-in … Read more

Vizio goes big with 54-inch 5.1 sound bar, adds HDMI connectivity

LAS VEGAS -- Last year, Vizio made a splash at CES 2013 with its 42-inch Vizio S4251w-B4 5.1 sound bar, offering up true surround sound in a sleek package via two rear speakers.

At CES 2014, Vizio unveiled the S5451w-C2, a larger 5.1 sound bar that's designed to fit jumbo TVs sized 55 inches and larger.

As is often the case with home audio, the bigger size offers potential performance benefits as well. Vizio claims the greater width of the sound bar allows for better separation between the left, right, and center channels, which is something we'… Read more

Top 40 must-have Blu-ray discs

As 2013 winds to a close -- and as many of you will soon be looking to spend gift cards -- we thought this was a good time to update our list of must-have Blu-ray discs. We've added three new 2013 films, each of which will max out your home theater system, both visually and aurally.

Though my face is at the top of the column, the list was compiled with input from editors John Falcone, Matthew Moskovciak, and David Katzmaier, who look at a lot of video content in their day-to-day testing of products. We also keep an eye on AVS Forum's Blu-ray picture quality and audio quality threads, and have always appreciated the site's tiered rating system.

This list is not set in stone, and we'll be adding and removing discs as new ones come out. As always, feel free to make comments and suggest your own personal favorites. They may get added to the list in the future. … Read more

20 TVs tested: Which sets can pass surround sound to a sound bar?

Here's the scenario: You bought a new TV and you're planning to use it as an AV switcher for a sound bar. It's a smart move, as most sound bars lack HDMI inputs, so you can simply connect all your gear to your TV via HDMI, and connect your TV's optical output to the sound bar.

The only problem is that most TVs dumb down incoming surround-sound audio signals to a stereo PCM signal. If you're using a sound bar that can take advantage of a true surround sound signal -- such as the Sonos PlaybarRead more