LAS VEGAS--Sound bars have been around since the Yamaha YSP-1, which won a CNET Next Big Thing nomination at CES 2005. Panasonic is a major manufacturer of home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems, but the company is making its first entry into the sound bar market with the SC-HTB1. The press release highlights its "Clear-Mode Dialogue" feature and advanced bamboo cone speakers, but the most interesting announcement to us is its compatibility with ARC (audio return channel), allowing you to "connect it to the TV with just one HDMI cable."
An audio return channel is one of the new features of the HDMI 1.4 standard, and theoretically you could connect all your components directly to your HDMI 1.4-compatible HDTV with just a single HDMI cable sending the audio back to the sound bar.
Great in theory, but we won't know how well it works until we actually get our hands on a review unit. We imagine there could be challenges with analog audio sources that would need to be converted to digital audio by the TV.
There was no pricing or availability announced, so we'll have to wait for more information about the SC-HTB1.