The HW-C451 hits most of the key points we look for in a sound bar home theater system. The wireless subwoofer eliminates another cord from your home theater. Included basics, like a remote and LCD display, which go missing from many competing sound bar HTIBs, make it relatively easy to use. The HW-C451 lacks any video pass-through options, so you'll need to run all video cables directly from the sources to your TV.
|HDMI inputs||0||Analog audio inputs||0|
|Optical inputs||2||Coaxial inputs||0|
|Minijack input||1||Max. connected ext. devices||3|
The HW-C451's connectivity package is less extensive than we would have liked. Most glaring is the omission of any HDMI connectivity, which is available on the similarly-priced Sony HT-CT150 and Panasonic SC-HTB10. Two optical inputs are the main digital audio connections and the HW-C451 also includes a minijack input designed to handle a device with a stereo analog audio output. Samsung includes a minijack-to-stereo RCA adapter cable with the HW-C451. If you have a simple home theater--three devices or fewer--the HW-C451 may fit your needs, but it's smart to check whether it has enough inputs to handle all your gear. There's also a USB port on the back, but it's used only for firmware updates.
|Audio decoding capabilities|
|Dolby Digital Plus||No||DTS-HD HR||No|
|Dolby TrueHD||No||DTS-HD Master Audio||No|
Only standard Dolby and DTS decoding are handled by the HW-C451. In our opinion that's not a major loss, as the superior sonic fidelity of high-resolution soundtracks like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio is likely to be lost on a single speaker system like the HW-C451.
Don't let the HW-C451's sleek proportions fool you: this system is surprisingly potent. The speaker's tonal balance is rich, but doesn't skimp on detail or energy. True-surround envelopment isn't a strong suit, but the HW-C451 can project a wide and spacious soundfield.
We were so impressed with the HW-C451's natural sound that we'll start by recounting our listening sessions with a music Blu-ray, the AIX "Audio Calibration Disc HD Music Sampler." John Gorka's vocal and acoustic guitar sounded natural as can be; few sound bars--even very expensive ones like Yamaha's YSP-4100--can touch the HW-C451 in this regard. But there was little virtual surround and the YSP-4100 is much better on that score.
There's a scene from the first episode of the "Mad Men Season Three" Blu-ray in which Don (Jon Hamm) and Sal (Bryan Batt) are on a jet flying to Baltimore. The sound of ice cubes hitting the sides of the plastic cups, the roar of the air conditioning, and the low drone of the engines in the plane's cabin were beautifully rendered by the HW-C451. That level of subtle detail isn't something we take for granted with budget-priced sound bars, but the HW-C451 rose above the fray.
We used the battle scenes from the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray to test the HW-C451's Smart Volume feature. With Smart Volume turned on, from the remote, the helicopter crash and gunfire weren't much louder than the dialogue. At first we weren't sure the Smart Volume was actually doing anything, but it was working so well we didn't hear the usual adverse effects of dynamic range compression (dulling and muffling of the sound). The HW-C451 has another potentially useful feature, DRC, which does pretty much the same thing, but we preferred Smart Volume. The wireless subwoofer's bass was full, though not particularly powerful.
The sound was less impressive with CDs, as on them the treble was harsher, and we noticed a gap in the bass between the sub and the speaker for the first time. The HW-C451 will be adequate for background music listening--or even multichannel mixes, like the AIX disc--but not a great choice for buyers who play a lot of two-channel music. The HW-C451 sounds best with movies.