More than any other sound bar available today, the Yamaha YSP-5100 delivers a single-single speaker home theater solution without making too many compromises. It's one of the few sound bars that actually does a credible job of creating virtual surround-sound effects, and it's packed with 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 it may be bulky, but it's a more simplified approach than unpowered sound bars that require a separate AV receiver.
As much as we liked the YSP-5100, we ultimately have a hard time giving it an unequivocal recommendation. 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. Furthermore, when we tested it side-by-side with the almost identically featured YSP-4100 ($1,700 street price), we found no appreciable drop-off in sound quality. Yamaha's high-end digital sound projectors are excellent products for the niche they serve, but we'd recommend buyers in this price bracket still go with the cheaper YSP-4100.
Mainstream sound bars get sleeker and slimmer, but Yamaha's YSP-5100 is unapologetically big. Although thinner than some previous Yamaha YSP systems, it still comes in at a mammoth 47.25 inches wide, 8.38 inches high, and 3.5 inches deep. With that height it's unlikely to fit below your TV without blocking part of the screen, as it did in our test environment. The best bet is to have it wall-mounted, although you'll need to be clever about hiding all the wires that need to be connected to it. So yes, the YSP-5100 can deliver single-speaker simplicity, but you'll have to plan ahead to really take advantage of the design.
Large footprint aside, the YSP-5100 doesn't draw attention to itself. The majority of its front is covered by a matte-black speaker grille, with a strip of glossy black running along the bottom. Behind the speaker grille is Yamaha's unique speaker design, with a total of 40 separate 1.5-inch drivers and two 1-inch tweeters that work together to reflect sound off walls and create a surround-sound effect. There's an LCD screen in the center of the glossy black strip for volume level and other basic indicators.
The included remote 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.
Though the YSP-5100 clearly has more functionality than any other sound bar we've tested, it is missing a few features found on similar systems that cost much, much less. The YSP-5100's HDMI inputs do not support 3D video pass-through, which means you'll need to run a separate HDMI cable directly to your 3D HDTV--and an audio cable to the YSP-5100--to utilize 3D functionality. We don't consider it a huge loss, since 3D is still in its infancy and it's unclear whether it will take off, but it's a little disappointing considering units like the Panasonic SC-HTB10 ($200) and the Sony HT-CT150 ($300) both support 3D pass-through.
Unlike many less-expensive competitors, the YSP-5100 does not include a subwoofer--wireless or otherwise. The Yamaha's sound quality is good enough that you don't necessarily need one (more on this in the performance section), but nonetheless a sub would offer a significant improvement. If you want that improvement you'll have to purchase one separately, further driving up the expense.
On the upside, we appreciated the front-panel LCD display, which makes it easier to make sound level adjustments and switch inputs. It's also worth pointing out that the YSP-5100 features a basic, text-based graphical user interface (GUI), so you can make adjustments using menus on your HDTV. Aside from the YSP-4100, we're not aware of any other sound bar home theater system that offers a GUI (excluding systems with a built-in disc player).
|HDMI inputs||4||Analog audio inputs||2|
|Optical inputs||2||Coaxial inputs||1|
|Minijack input||No||Max. connected ext. devices||7|
Along with similar the YSP-4100, the YSP-5100 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-5100'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-5100 doesn't offer a minijack input, but it does include the YIT-W10 wireless iPod dock, discussed later.
The YSP-5100 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.
In addition to the HDMI inputs, the YSP-5100 also supports analog video and includes both a component video input and a composite video input. It's also capable of analog video upconversion, which means that analog video signals can be output over the HDMI output. Though there aren't many analog video devices left (mostly just the Nintendo Wii), it's a nice extra feature and allows you to make one less connection directly to your HDTV.