Home Theater

Soundbars Step into Spotlight

As TVs get thinner and audio becomes more important to consumers, soundbars have gone from supporting roles to feature players.

The B&W Panorama 2 soundbar, tucked discreetly into its surroundings.

Photos & Slideshow

Robert Archer · February 11, 2013

A few years ago, during the boom years of home theater, many in the industry turned up their noses at soundbars. Few manufacturers in the custom- and specialty-audio markets saw their potential.

That’s no longer the case. Today, the once-ostracized soundbar is a highly touted product.

From Add-On to Featured Player

Noah Kaplan, president of Leon Speakers, recalls that when Leon first started to offer soundbars, consumers viewed flat-panel TVs as sexy and fun, but now it’s the soundbar that provides the allure within a TV/Soundbar combination.

“When we first started building speakers for flat-panel TVs, it was all about building two-channel speakers for your TVs,” he says. “There’s been an evolution in how people use them and how people integrate them into their homes. In the early days it was just for watching TVs. As TVs got larger, the application for home theater was born. It’s all about immersiveness and hiding the speakers into homes now.”

Leon has worked with design professionals to incorporate what they’ve learned about user preferences into its products.

“If you are an American, you may watch up to 32 hours [of ] TV a week,” he says. “From my perspective that’s nearly a full-time job. We wanted to optimize that experience with Direct Source Audio [DSA] because you need the continuity of sound from two channels to surround sound. We figured out that 90 percent of soundbar usage is for watching TV and 40 percent of that time is in two-channel. What most people want is articulation, and most of the sound is directed to the center channel.”

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Demand for Soundbars Grows

While the soundbar market is maturing, the allure of flat-panel TVs is waning. That means the next phase of soundbar evolution will be to blend these speakers into home environments. Kaplan explains that homeowners want the immersive experience of home theater, but they don’t want the products that create that experience to stand out visually. These solutions must also be scalable to their environment, which could range from large rooms to smaller bedrooms, and they must be versatile to fit a variety of usage applications.

And soundbars aren’t just for home entertainment anymore.

“The more interesting thing to talk about with soundbars is their use for commercial applications,” Kaplan says. “We are building telepresence soundbar solutions. That’s the most interesting evolution of the category to me. We even do soundbars for Stewart Filmscreen’s CineCurve. We’ve built one 17-feet long. The soundbar is also [a] technology hub. You could see that someday people could use them as telephones.”

Photos: 8 Soundbars for Your Next Install

As the market continues to evolve, Kaplan says the next stage will be the inclusion of these technologies into solutions that blend into more home spaces.

“For us it means, we are building cameras into them; [Nintendo] Wiis or [Microsoft] Kinect boxes; we also see them as something much different so we want to make sure we are listening to our users,” Kaplan says. “We are also seeing powered units with DSPs and subwoofers. We are building in more technology - more Skype cameras, telepresence cameras, gaming systems - and we are building them for larger- scale TVs. I see the market continuing to evolve. These things are the window to the world.”

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  About the Author

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at rarcher@ehpub.com

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  Article Topics

Home Theater · Displays · News · Media · Slideshow · Soundbar · All Topics
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