SurroundBar Instant Home Theater

Review

posted 1/6/2009 by Dan Keener
other articles by Dan Keener
One Page Platforms: AV
Setup
The setup on the SurroundBar SDA Instant Home Theater couldn’t be any easier, which is why it has “Instant Home Theater” in the name. You literally pull it out of the box, plug in the power cords, match the channel settings (selector switches) on the SurroundBar and wireless sub and connect it to an analog audio out device. You can also hang it on the wall (built in keyhole slots) or use the included cradles and have it set on your stand in front of the TV (which is how I tested it in my setup). It also sports rubber feet for use without the cradles, so there are several ways to position the SurroundBar for the best audio experience.

The other easy part to setting up the SB IHT is teaching it the volume controls from another remote. You press the Remote button, aim a remote at it and press the control you want it to learn for one second and the SB IHT will learn the function. Do this with the two volume controls, power and mute, and you literally have it programmed in 20 seconds or less. While I thought this was a novel approach, it wouldn’t hurt in my opinion to have included a mini-remote for those that do not feel like messing around with the programming. With any electronic device, there is no guarantee that every consumer will have a functioning remote handy or will want to exclusively use their TV remote to control the SurroundBar (which requires turning off the TVs internal speakers for best effect.)

As for the Sub, one thing that everyone will be interested in is how far the range is and how well the 2.4 GHz frequency holds up. I took these two questions as a challenge and threw everything I could at the sub. Starting with the functional range, I moved it all over the 21’ x 18’ Great Room of my house trying to find a dead zone. To my delight, the sub picked up the signal everywhere I plugged it in. I even moved it to the Dining Room in the front, approximately 45 feet from the SurroundBar and it still picked up the signal. Next up came trying to disrupt the signal. I broke out a 2.4 GHz baby monitor, an old Linksys Wireless b/g router and for good measure, a long-retired 2.4 GHz wireless phone. The tests I created were both for proximity and direct line of conflict. In other words, I used all the devices in the room within a 10-foot radius of the SurroundBar IHT bar and sub, as well as placing these devices (while on and functioning) in between the bar and the sub. In all three instances, I was unable to disrupt the connection between the receiver and transmitter, regardless how far apart they were in the room.

In my opinion, the Polk SB IHT lived up to its Instant Home Theater billing, as I actually had the unit powered up, plugged in to my TVs variable output and functioning in under 5 minutes. This is a huge selling point to me as anyone with even the most benign audio knowledge can get great sounding surround in a matter a minutes.


Audio testing
The SurroundBar units aren’t exactly designed to listen to Metallica (although I did it anyway) so much as they are designed for audio mixed to video. Whether that is watching a movie, TV or playing video games, my experiences found that the SB IHT did an outstanding job of creating an excellent surround atmosphere.

My first tests came while I watched Tropic Thunder on Blu-Ray again using the SB IHT as the exclusive sound system. While the movie isn’t the most spectacular for special effects and audio, it offers enough scenes (and big explosions) that will tax a large component based home theater, let alone one using a bar speaker. Needless to say, the SurroundBar IHT did a fabulous job of creating a soundfield that made me feel like I was right there in the scene as the Director blew up form stepping on the land mine. In fact, the whole sequence with Ben Stiller and the Director’s “head” sounded fantastic. It was a nice contrast in different audio effects for the SB IHT as it went from the large echoing canyon, to the drug runners moving through the jungle, to noises being made with the finger-licking good close up of the insides falling out of the head. I also realized that the sub blended in perfectly with the SurroundBar during those explosion scenes. It did not stand out as overwhelming, nor did I ever notice that the bass and boom wasn’t up to the standards I expected.


I switched over to Palladia (HD Music channel) for a bit to catch The Who concert that also featured the Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam. Not only did the SB IHT do a great job of presenting the audio in bigger sound that the TV, it created a sense that I was sitting in the third row of this music hall watching Roger Daltrey belt out songs he cant hit the high notes on anymore. I was very impressed with how it made the concert music feel like it wrapped around me while I was watching the event. After watching the concert, I pulled up some HD CSI from my Netflix account on the Xbox 360 and watched an episode. Again, the SB IHT performed exactly the way I would expect the audio to sound and created a good viewing experience.

The only thing I noticed that can be construed as a negative is that there is a definite sweet spot dead center with the single-bar speaker systems when they are placed low to the seating area. Unless you have the SurroundBar mounted to the wall above the television and let the audio cascade down into the room, you will hear how the audio envelope is not as strong as you move around to the sides of the room. It isn’t a great concern to me, as most surround systems I have listened to experience this in some sort of fashion and it certainly doesn’t take away from the overall effectiveness of the SurroundBar IHT.
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