Polk Audio SurroundBar 360 review: Polk Audio SurroundBar 360

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The Good Single-speaker home theater system; includes built-in DVD player; inputs for additional external AV components; easy setup; superior sound quality; strong-enough bass that most listeners won't need a subwoofer.

The Bad Limited number of AV inputs; built-in Blu-ray player or HDMI inputs would've been an ideal upgrade.

The Bottom Line The Polk Audio SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater delivers excellent sound from a single speaker bar, with the lack of built-in Blu-ray being the real sticking point.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 8

We first saw the Polk Audio SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2008, where we chose it as one of only three home audio finalists for Best of CES. While it ultimately didn't take the crown, we were still looking forward to the final product: our brief initial exposure to the home theater in a box system revealed superb sound quality from just a single speaker bar, and--unlike most other similar systems--it was able to deliver palpable low-end bass without the need for a subwoofer. Unfortunately, the product slipped from its originally scheduled April debut, instead hitting the market toward the end of 2008. Judged against current expectations--and what we expect to see in 2009--the lack of Blu-ray in a system that retails for $900 to $1,200 is now a legitimate concern. We're hoping Polk Audio revisits the product, with either Blu-ray onboard, or with a host of HDMI inputs so you can add your own HD video player. In the meantime, those who don't mind sticking with DVD will find the SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater to be a superior and easy-to-use all-in-one single-speaker system.

The SurroundBar 360 aims for simplicity in design and setup, and--thanks to a straightforward two-piece design--largely achieves that. The speakerbar portion is 4.5 inches tall by 64 inches wide by 5 inches deep. Externally, it looks similar to the original Polk Audio SurroundBar we reviewed in 2005. Like that model--and subsequent Polk SurroundBars--the 360 version uses Polk's proprietary "SDA Surround" technology (Stereo Dimensional Array). Remove the grille, and you'll notice the eight separate 2.5-inch speaker drivers are evenly grouped at both ends, with nothing in the middle.

Polk includes two pairs of cradles for the speaker bar--one that makes it nearly flush with the table, and another that raises it a couple of inches. (If you're sitting in front of a TV, note that you might be blocking the TV's remote control IR receptor.) Alternately, the speaker can be mounted with keyhole slots or screwmounts.

A single 15-foot umbilical cable connects the speaker bar to the head unit, which Polk refers to as a "DVD Console" because it houses the disc player, in addition to all of the electronics and inputs and outputs. The umbilical cable uses proprietary connections, so don't expect to do any DIY extensions. The DVD Console is a reasonably svelte 3.25 inches tall by 16.5 inches wide by 11.5 inches deep--not much larger than a standard DVD player. If you want to keep things simple, you can get away with just the three wires: the speaker cable, the video output to TV (HDMI or otherwise), and a power cord.

The remote is a fairly elaborate affair that doesn't quite match the otherwise straightforward design of the SurroundBar 360. It's a universal model that can also be programmed to control a TV and cable/satellite box (including changing inputs on the TV). We'd be more comfortable investing in a dedicated universal remote instead, but this one gets the job done in the meantime.

You'll probably want to stick with the remote, though, because the controls on the DVD Console are somewhat cramped and confusing. They use a piano keyboard design, with five small buttons (video transport) inset between six larger ones (volume, source, power, and disc eject). The Console also includes a dimmable LCD screen on the front panel, while the disc tray is stealthily hidden on the right-hand side.

Setup is aimed at novices, and--for once--is pretty simple and straightforward. Just hit the "360 setup" key on the remote for an onscreen menu, and adjust settings as you see fit. We particularly liked that the remote programming--setting it to control third-party TVs and cable/satellite boxes--was all done via the onscreen menu as well. You're still doing some tedious trial and error (enter "0004" and see if your TV turns off), but at least it's up there on the screen, and not in a hard-to-read manual.

The SurroundBar 360 is designed as a full-service home theater system that includes a built-in CD/DVD player and AM/FM radio. Right off the bat, though, there's a problem: no Blu-ray. Given the fact that the Polk was released in late 2008, that's an issue: nearly all the home theater systems we expect to see in this price range in 2009--including some single-speaker models--include Blu-ray.

On the plus side, the SurroundBar's DVD Console does include some expansion options: there are two rear-panel AV inputs with S-Video, both of which can use analog stereo or optical digital audio. Additionally, there's an additional audio-only input (analog stereo, optical digital, or coaxial digital). Unfortunately, there's no HDMI--if Polk had included an HDMI input or two, that would've somewhat ameliorated the lack of onboard Blu-ray.

The DVD Console's back panel offers the capability to connect other devices, but we were flummoxed by the dearth of HDMI inputs.