Polk Audio SurroundBar 360 review:

Polk Audio SurroundBar 360

The side of the DVD Console includes another S-Video AV input, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack. There's also a USB port that can be used for MP3 music and JPEG video files--but the source flash drive must be smaller than 1GB, and have fewer than 100 files.

Taken together, that means you can get video and stereo or surround audio from three sources, such as a cable/satellite box, video-on-demand box, and game console--but it'll be limited to standard definition. Alternately, you can hook up an HD video player directly to your TV, and use the optical inputs on the Polk for audio. It works fine; you'll just be sacrificing the convenience and efficiency of the single remote and unified system.

As for outputs, the DVD Console includes the standard DVD connections to your TV: HDMI, component, S-Video, and composite. There's also a subwoofer output (for adding an optional sub) and an analog stereo output.

Thankfully, the SurroundBar 360 does upconvert the analog video inputs mentioned above to HDMI output. It's fine, but not the highest quality we've seen. The same can be said for the unit's DVD upconversion capabilities (480p, 720p, or 1080i can be selected). Casual viewers--the overwhelming portion of the market for this sort of product--will find little to complain about, but videophiles may be chagrined at the soft image quality on larger TVs.

The Polk SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater was conceived with a very specific type of home theater buyer in mind: someone who wants much better sound than they are getting from the speakers built into their TV, but without the hassles associated with separately hooking up and calibrating a HTIB with five satellite speakers and a powered subwoofer.

We've heard those claims before, but with the SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater there's nothing to calibrate, so as soon as we had it wired up we heard surprisingly well-balanced sound. The skinny speaker produced an amazing amount of bass without a subwoofer. Even demanding fare such as "The Incredible Hulk" DVD didn't overtax the SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater's endurance. The green superhero's menacing growls were fierce, and the speaker's soundstage stretched well out to the sides, but not the rear of our listening room. We did note that when the Hulk hurls armored vehicles at soldiers, their crashes weren't as loud as they should have been; it's as if the SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater had an automatic "Night Mode" that intentionally subdued the film's loudest dynamics. That's why the sound never overtly distorted--the SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater handled special effects-driven films better than most single speaker surround systems that don't come with self-powered subwoofers.

The SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater's bass is probably full enough to satisfy most buyers, but since the console/DVD player has a subwoofer output jack, we couldn't resist plugging in a Polk PSW111 sub to hear what it would do. So sure, the Hulk sounded considerably more incredible thanks to the sub's deeper, more powerful and all-round better bass. The SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater's dynamic range also opened up, bringing the sound closer to what we'd get from a 5.1 channel HTIB.

Still, after we disconnected the sub, the SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater's sound didn't disappoint. Add a subwoofer only if you're a serious bass hound. Otherwise you'll probably be fine without one--a major boon to anyone who's looking for the most minimalist setup possible.

Freelancer Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.

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