Editors' note: The rating of the Philips HTS8100 has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
A lot of people love the idea of a home theater system until they realize they need to run wires all over the living room to make it work. Companies have tried to solve this problem with a variety of solutions--wireless rear speakers, virtual surround from less than six speakers--but there's no denying the appeal of recent single-speaker solutions for design-conscious buyers. The Philips HTS8100 SoundBar is one of the newest virtual surround systems with a single speaker plus a subwoofer, and it manages to stash one more trick up its sleeve: a built-in DVD player. In all, the HTS8100 comes through on most of its promises. It does a pretty good job of approximating the surround experience, we liked the styling, and it even impressed us with its video quality while upscaling DVDs. We had some minor gripes, namely that it lacks video inputs and doesn't sound great with music, but we're betting many style-first buyers are willing to live with those compromises. We can't say we're thrilled about the $800 list price, but it's available for less online, and it's competitively priced compared to many other high-style virtual surround systems, such as the Yamaha YSP-1100 and the JVC DD-3 Sophisti.
The Philips HTS8100's look is extremely stylish. The main unit consists of a long, thin speaker system--the SoundBar--that measures a svelte 5.75 inches high by 36.81 inches wide by 5.35 inches deep. For a system this thin, you might be surprised to find out there's a DVD player packed in there as well; with a tap of the open/close button, the black reflective panel in the middle slides back to reveal a vertically aligned DVD player. The SoundBar can either stand on a table or be mounted on the wall with the included bracket. All in all, it comes close to the ultimate in minimalist home theater--just one component under (or over) your TV that acts like your receiver, DVD player and surround-sound speaker system.
Of course, it's not quite that simple. The SoundBar unit must also connect to the included subwoofer, which definitely makes it harder to wall mount and still keep the wire concealed. The smallish sub measures in at 18.5 inches high by 11.61 inches wide by 11.61 inches deep and has a modern look at goes well with the aesthetic of the SoundBar.
Philips also includes an iPod dock in the package, and this connects to the main SoundBar using a proprietary connection. We love that Philips included the dock, but the extra wires and separate component does put a damper on the simple design. It would have been nice if Philips had designed the dock into either the SoundBar itself or the sub, but with a separate dock, you'll need to pull off some creative cable management to hide the additional wire.
The cool-looking remote features a glossy, black finish, which may look nice when you take it out of the box but quickly becomes a magnet for fingerprints. Button placement is fine for important buttons like volume, playback controls, and the main directional pad, which are clearly separated and easy to use by feel. On the other hand, the rest of the buttons are all the same height and directly adjacent, making them more difficult to differentiate.
Like just about every HTIB with a built-in DVD player, the HTS8100 comes with both standard Dolby and DTS surround-sound processing. Of course, the HTS8100 doesn't actually have six discrete speakers, so it uses its own processing to simulate the surround experience from one speaker.