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Sony HT-CT150 review: Sony HT-CT150

Sony HT-CT150

Matthew Moskovciak Steve Guttenberg
Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
4 min read

Sony HT-CT150

Sony HT-CT150

The Good

Three HDMI inputs; excellent sound quality for a sound bar home theater system; no AV receiver required; capable of switching between six devices.

The Bad

IR receiver on the subwoofer limits its placement options; subwoofer isn't wireless; cluttered remote.

The Bottom Line

Sony's HT-CT150 sound bar home theater system sounds great and is way ahead of the competition with its three HDMI inputs; however, its IR receiver limits the subwoofer's placement options.

The amount of sound bar home theater systems in the $300 price range has exploded this year, but nearly all of them lack HDMI switching despite it being the near-universal home theater connection. (Now you can even connect the Nintendo Wii via HDMI.) Sony's been way ahead of the game with its HDMI port count, which is why its HT-CT100 sound bar home theater system has been one of the most popular products we reviewed: it has three HDMI inputs, excellent sound quality, and an affordable price tag.

For 2010, Sony released an updated version, the HT-CT150, and little has changed on the features front. Sure, its HDMI inputs are now 3D compatible, but otherwise the feature selection is nearly identical, which is fine since the competition still lags. Other sound bars have caught up in terms of sound quality; we found that the HT-CT150 still sounds very good, but it's not a standout performer as the HT-CT100 was. The system's biggest letdown is that Sony made a couple of design tweaks that make it less flexible in terms of subwoofer placement. However, as long as the HT-CT150 fits your home theater environment, it's still the best value in terms of sound quality and features.

The typical design for a sound bar home theater system consists of a long cylindrical sound bar that you connect all your components to, plus a wireless subwoofer. The HT-CT150 breaks many of these conventions. The subwoofer isn't wireless--it has an AC power cable and an umbilical link to the sound bar--and it acts as the main hub of the system, housing all of the inputs and the amplifier. That leaves the sound bar itself to be just a small, thin speaker that measures 31.5 inches wide by 2.63 inches tall by 2.38 inches deep.

This speaker arrangement is less than ideal for several reasons. First, the wired subwoofer limits how far away you can place it from the sound bar--Sony's included proprietary speaker cable is only 9.8 feet long. Even if the cable were longer, you'd have to keep it close to the TV anyway, because all your home theater devices need to connect directly to it. Finally, Sony made the unfortunate decision to put the IR sensor--which receives commands from the remote control--on the subwoofer rather than the sound bar. That means the sub needs to be within line of sight with your couch; many people like to hide their subs in a corner or behind other equipment. To be fair, the HT-CT150 will work perfectly fine in many home theater environments, but be sure to plan ahead before deciding to buy it.

A few buttons are available on the subwoofer.
There are a few buttons available on the HT-CT150's subwoofer, along with the LCD screen.

Sony made the remote more complex than it needs to be. It makes the mistake of trying to be everything for everyone by providing buttons for controlling both a TV and a Blu-ray player, although it can control Sony branded products. The result is an ugly remote with many buttons that have two or three functions--labeled with tiny yellow dots or pink lettering--that require you to hit a "shift" or "TV" button first to enable the function. It's not a pretty picture, especially when you compare the HT-CT150's remote to the clicker Vizio includes with its competing VHT210. Yes, the HT-CT150's remote has more functionality, but it certainly is not enough to justify all the clutter. As always, the best bet is to spring for a quality universal remote.

Since the HT-CT150 has so many HDMI ports, you might expect it to include a graphical user interface, as many Blu-ray home theaters include. Unfortunately, you have to use the small LCD screen on the front of the subwoofer to adjust the HT-CT150's settings. It's not fair to knock the HT-CT150 for doing this, as no competitors have onscreen displays either; however, it would have been a nice extra.


"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key features
3D pass-through Yes Subwoofer Wired
Remote Yes LCD display Yes

The HT-CT150 is an exceptional sound bar in its price class because it has video switching and 3D pass-through capabilities--meaning that it can pass a 3D video signal from a 3D video source to a 3D HDTV. While 3D compatibility isn't a must-have feature for us, it's still nice that Sony future-proofed a relatively inexpensive system.

It is worth pointing out that the HT-CT150 is one of the few sound bar home theater systems in this price range that lacks a wireless subwoofer. It's not a huge shortcoming, but as we mentioned in the design section, it limits your placement options for the HT-CT150.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">AV connectivity
HDMI inputs 3 Analog audio inputs 2
Optical inputs 2 Coaxial inputs 1
Minijack input No Max. connected ext. devices 6

The HT-CT150's connectivity options are outstanding across the board. The only other competing system with any HDMI connectivity is the Panasonic SC-HTB10, and it only has one port. There are quite a few sound bar home theater systems at this price, and the HT-CT150's HDMI connectivity puts it in a class of its own.

Even beyond its HDMI ports, the rest of the HT-CT150's connectivity is better than average. Its three digital inputs and two stereo analog inputs are more than enough to cover any non-HDMI gadgets you have. The HT-CT150 has six total input labels (such as "BD," "SAT/CATV," and so on), which means that's the maximum amount of external devices you can easily switch between at a time, even though there are more total inputs.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Audio decoding capabilities
Dolby Digital Yes DTS Yes
Dolby Digital Plus No DTS-HD HR No
Dolby TrueHD No DTS-HD Master Audio No

Like nearly every other sound bar HTIB, the HT-CT150 only supports standard Dolby and DTS decoding. In our opinion that's not a major loss, as the superior sonic fidelity of high-resolution soundtracks like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio is likely to be lost on a single speaker system like the HT-CT150.

Weighing just less than 3 pounds, the HT-CT150 is light enough to be wall-mounted with a couple of screws. Or do what we did, and just put it on the shelf in front of our TV.

The HT-CT150 doesn't have an auto-speaker calibration program, and it doesn't really need one. However, you can separately fine-tune the sound bar's center channel and the subwoofer's volume levels. Doing so requires navigating the HT-CT150's setup menu, which is visible as just a small LCD screen on the subwoofer. Even so, we found navigating the menu's layers on the HT-CT150 display easy enough to do.

While we were there, we experimented with the bass and treble tone controls, Dolby Digital DRC (dynamic range control), and Night Mode settings. The last two settings are provided to help reduce movies' soft-loud dynamic volume swings. DRC and Night Mode worked well enough, but since the HT-CT150's sound isn't that dynamic, we didn't feel a need to use DRC or Night Mode. In any case, Sony should provide direct access via the remote, instead of all the other less useful functions it includes. Jumping into the HT-CT150's menu every time we wanted to make a sound adjustment (other than volume level) was a minor annoyance.

Audio performance
Our previous, very positive experiences with Sony's HT-CT100 sound bar led to high expectations for the HT-CT150. The HT-CT100 was a standout in 2008, but the budget-price competition has shown steady improvement. Would the Sony HT-C150 still lead the pack?

We would have liked to compare the old and new Sony sound bars face-to-face, but we returned our HT-CT100 sample to Sony years ago. The HT-CT150 on its own was very good. It had decent clarity, and thanks to the subwoofer, a healthy, full-bottomed bass sound. The sound bar and subwoofer's blend were excellent, so it was hard to distinguish the sub's bass from that of the sound bar's--that's a good thing.

We also noted the HT-CT150's faux surround and soundstage depth were above average. No, the sound wasn't as room filling as an actual 5.1 channel system would be, but the soundstage extended to nearly the full width of the front wall of the CNET listening room. Its dimensionality and depth made it easy to forget most of the sound was coming from a skinny sound bar speaker.

We could hear the windswept desolation of Southwest Texas in the quieter scenes on the "No Country For Old Men" Blu-ray. That sort of subtle detail adds tremendously to the realism the HT-CT150 can muster. And when Chigurh (Javier Bardem) executes his victims with a cattle gun, the sound made us jump.

The "Terminator Salvation" Blu-ray's more sustained violence proved to be a tougher test of the HT-CT150's stamina. There, the blasts of gunfire and explosions didn't deliver the dynamic jolts we got from Samsung's HW-C450. Not that the HT-CT150 sounded bad, it just seemed to run out of power faster, and even when pegged to its max volume level, it wasn't that loud.

The HT-CT150 sounds a bit better than Vizio's VHT210 sound bar home theater system; its dialog was clearer and the HT-CT150's deeper soundstage made for more convincing surround sound. Its sub made more bass than the Vizio's tiny sub, but we can't say the HT-CT150 really clobbered the VHT210 by a significant margin in any area.

The Rolling Stones' "Shine A Light" Blu-ray sounded pretty nice with the HT-CT150. The big sub took a lot of the credit for that, but bass definition was only fair. Mick Jagger's vocals and Keith Richards' guitar clarity impressed, thanks to HT-CT150's center channel speaker. While playing CDs, its sound was above average, and the HT-CT150 is gusty enough to rock out, something few sound bars do at all well.

The Sony HT-CT150 is probably a bit better than the original HT-CT100 was, but the competition has now caught up to or bettered Sony's entry-level system, at least on the performance front.

Sony HT-CT150

Sony HT-CT150

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 9Performance 7
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