The Yamaha YSP-4100 offers better surround effects, superior sound quality, and more features than competing sound bars do; however, it's expensive and most buyers won't need all of its functionality.
More than any other sound bars available today, Yamaha's high-end Digital Sound Projectors deliver a single-speaker home theater solution without making too many compromises. The Yamaha YSP-4100 is one of the few sound bars that actually does a credible job of creating virtual surround-sound effects, and it has almost as many features (four HDMI inputs, analog video upconversion, automatic speaker calibration) as a standard AV receiver. It's also a powered unit, so while it may be bulky, it takes a more simplified approach than unpowered sound bars that require a separate AV receiver.
The YSP-4100 packs a ton of features and performance into a single speaker cabinet, but you'll have to pay for it. It's currently selling for about $2,000, which is much more than its competitors and doesn't include the price of a separate subwoofer--which many competing systems include. On the other hand, it's a better choice than the step-up YSP-5100, as we found very little sonic difference between the two models. Yamaha's high-end digital sound projectors are excellent products for the niche they serve, but the YSP-4100's high price will keep that niche relatively small.
The YSP-4100 offers by far the most connectivity of any sound bar home theater system that we've tested. Most important are its four HDMI inputs, which should be enough for all but the most complex home theaters. Most sound bar HTIBs don't have any HDMI functionality, but it's worth pointing out that two much cheaper options exist: Sony HT-CT150 (three HDMI inputs) and the Panasonic SC-HTB10 (one HDMI input).
The rest of the YSP-4100's connectivity is generous, too. Three digital audio inputs along with two stereo analog audio inputs are enough to handle any older, non-HDMI devices you still have. We're surprised that the YSP-4100 doesn't offer a minijack input, but it does include the YIT-W10 wireless iPod dock, discussed later.
The YSP-4100 also includes 7.1 pre-outs, although it's hard to imagine anyone using them. Adding an amplifier and a separate speaker system--then just using the YSP-4100 as a switcher--eliminates nearly all the benefits of having an all-in-one sound bar in the first place.
The YSP-4100 features a basic, text-based graphical user interface, so you can make adjustments using menus on your HDTV. Aside from the YSP-5100, we're not aware of any other sound bar home theater system that offers a GUI (excluding systems with a built-in disc player).
The YSP-4100 also has a generous allotment of "input labels" (such as "HDMI 1" or "Aux 1," allowing you to connect and switch between seven total devices using the sound bar. That's much more than a standard sound bar home theater system, which usually maxes out around three.
The included remote control is serviceable, although we found the button layout and tiny labels disappointing at this price level. Unfortunately the most important control, volume, is lumped in with two other commands (TV volume and channel); we would have preferred a large rocker button set off from the rest of commands. If you're spending this much on a sound bar HTIB, you owe it to yourself to pick up a quality universal remote.