Sound bars are often thought of as replacements for full 5.1 home theater systems, but the Vizio VHT510 is a sound bar that is a 5.1 home theater system. Its unique design includes two rear speakers that connect directly to the wireless sub, which means you can stash the sub in the back of your home theater along with the rear speaker--no need to run cables from the front of the room to the back. More importantly, it has outstanding sound quality for a sound bar in this price range.
The VHT510 isn't perfect, as its connectivity options are limited and widespread user opinions indicate a high rate of failure on the front-panel indicator lights. (Vizio says the issue has been fixed and faulty units can be replaced.) And some "style-first" buyers may be turned off by the extra wires required for the rear channels, even if they do offer better sound quality. Still, the Vizio VHT510 is a downright bargain at its $320 street price, and we think it's an excellent solution for buyers who want the simplicity of a sound bar with a true surround-sound experience.
The main speaker of the VHT510 looks like a typical sound bar, with a long cylindrical design. It feels a little light (and cheap) when you pick it up, but it looks stylish enough from the outside, with the matte-black speaker grille dominating the look from the front. While many sound bars often don't provide stable supports on the bottom for placing on a TV stand, the VHT510 has two sturdy silver feet that keep it in place.
As we mentioned, the rear speakers connect directly to the wireless sub, not the sound bar. That means you can place the sub in the back of your room, connect it to the surround speakers, and not have to run wires from the front of your home theater to the back. (The sub needs an AC power source, too, of course.) The only problem is that you'll be sacrificing some sound quality; we generally recommend placing the sub relatively close to the sound bar to get a better blend between the sub and sound bar. Whether that's an acceptable compromise is up to you. We will note that the speaker wire included with the rear speakers is an unsightly bronze color, so you'll want to find a way to hide them.
A near-perfect remote
The included remote for the VHT510 is the best we've seen on a sound bar unit. The basic design is exceedingly simple, with just volume controls, plus a power and mute button.
That's plenty control for the average user (and even for the advanced user 90 percent of the time), but the remote gets even better by including more-advanced functionality via a slide-out panel. You can switch inputs and make all kinds of sonic adjustments on the fly. We especially appreciated having direct control over the subwoofer level. Plenty of remotes have slide-out panels, but the Vizio's is just done particularly well. Short of buying a universal remote, this is as good as it gets.
|Front panel display||Yes||Virtual surround||Yes|
|Other: Rear speakers|
Like most sound bars in this price range, the VHT510 has a wireless subwoofer and the aforementioned remote. The wireless sub is a step up over the otherwise excellent Sony HT-CT150, which has a wired subwoofer.
The major standout feature is the VHT510's rear speakers, which are uncommon on sound bar home theater systems. That's a plus for buyers who are looking for a sound bar that sounds better than, well, a sound bar, but it might be a minus for more style-conscious buyers who are looking to simplify the home theater experience.
The VHT510 also has a front-panel display of sorts, but there's a catch. When it's working, it's actually quite helpful, with lights behind the speaker grille letting you know exactly how loud the volume is and giving an indication as to which input you're on. The problem is that widespread user reviews at stores like Amazon mention that the display tends to break, often only after a few days. Vizio says the problem has been fixed and owners of defective models can get a replacement. Still, we'd make sure you purchase it from a store with a reliable return policy, just in case.