It doesn't take an expert to understand the appeal of the Philips HTL5120 ($250). It's one of the sleekest-looking sound bars there is, with a distinctive, slim design that easily sits under a TV. Its sound quality immediately gets your attention, too, creating a much larger sound stage than you'd expect from a single speaker enclosure. Even the spec sheet impresses right away, with two HDMI inputs (comparable sound bars have none) and built-in Bluetooth.
Once you get past those first impressions, there are some disappointments. Sound quality purists will notice that the HTL5120's built-in subwoofer doesn't make sound nearly as deep or refined as systems with a separate subwoofer. Similarly, the Philips' sonic charms don't quite extend to music, which can sound a little flat on the HTL5120. And the included remote never feels natural to use, as the button layout is far from conventional.
Still, it's hard to have too many complaints for $250, especially if you like the ultrasleek design and its expansive sound quality. Those who put a premium on sound will do better with the Vizio S422w-C4 ($250), but it lacks some of the flair that makes the HTL5120 worth checking out.
Design: Remarkably aerodynamic
The HTL5120 looks as if it was designed to perform well in a wind chamber, with a sleek, winglike design that's much flatter than most sound bars. It measures just 3.19 inches high, which means it's unlikely to block your TV's remote sensor as many other sound bars do.
Inside, there are two 1-inch tweeters as well as an integrated "subwoofer," which is really just a woofer responsible for the low frequencies. The HTL5120 can be positioned to lie flat on a tabletop or mounted vertically so it's positioned flat against a wall. There's an integrated orientation sensor that allows the HTL5120 to adjust its sound depending on how it is positioned.
The included remote is more confusing than it needs to be. Directional pads are typically used for navigating menus and pressing "OK," but on the HTL5120's clicker the D-pad is used for choosing inputs. Unless, of course, you want to choose an HDMI input, in which case you'll want to use one of the three separate buttons arranged at the top. Worse, what looks like a volume control right in the center of the remote actually controls lip-sync, while the volume control is lumped in with bass and treble controls at the bottom. (It is nice that bass and treble controls are available on the remote.) You'd be wise to replace it with a quality universal remote.
Features: HDMI and Bluetooth
The HTL5120 is particularly well equipped when it comes to inputs. That's largely thanks to the two HDMI inputs, which are two more than you'd typically find on a sound bar. HDMI connectivity isn't typically that big of a perk if you end up using your TV as a switcher, since most HDTVs have an optical audio output. However, HDMI makes more sense on the HTL5120 because of its focus on virtual surround sound, and because many TVs don't pass a true surround-sound signal when being used as a switcher.