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New dumb trend at CES: Splittable sound bars

CES 2012 has brought us the new "splittable" sound bar design, even though nobody was asking for it.

Splittable sound bar
CNET editor Ty Pendlebury "breaking" one of these new splittable sound bars in half. Sarah Tew/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Sound bars have gotten cheaper, and they sound better and have more connectivity than ever before. Now, apparently you can snap them in half, even if you never wanted to.

Panasonic and Samsung both had "splittable" sound bars here at CES 2012 and I felt like I saw more of them on the show floor. The idea is you can split the bar into two speakers, place them on a stand, and create a more traditional 2.1 speaker system.

It's a nifty-looking feature, but it doesn't solve a problem anybody has ever had with a sound bar. I get plenty of reader mail about sound bars, but nobody has ever asked about a sound bar that can transform into separate speakers, probably because when they bought a sound bar, they wanted a sound bar.

Samsung HW-E550
Samsung's HW-E550 sound bar can be used vertically or horizontally, for those with home theaters that are constantly morphing. Samsung

The promotional materials claim the new design gives you more "flexibility," but home theaters are pretty static environments. If you want stereo speakers, buy stereo speakers. If you want a sound bar, buy a sound bar. It's not that hard. Only the manufacturers benefit from the "flexibility" because they don't have to design two different products.

It's not as if sound bars don't have real problems that need to be solved. They frequently block the TV's remote sensor, making it tough to control your your TV. (Yamaha's nifty YAS-101 has a built-in IR blaster on the back that passes through signals from the front.) Sound bars could still sound a lot better and I think most buyers would rather manufacturers put their effort in that direction.

The most frustrating thing is I'm betting the splittable design probably makes the sound bars flimsier and more liable to break. And they probably sound worse, or at least not as good as they could if they were optimized for one position or the other.

Nobody wanted splittable sound bars, but now we have them. Thanks CES 2012.