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Vizio SB36512-F6 review: This is the Dolby Atmos sound bar you should buy

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The Good The Vizio SB36512-F6 is one of the least expensive ways to get Dolby Atmos. Sound quality is excellent for the price. The compact design includes dedicated rear speakers, and the number of inputs exceeds many competitors with Bluetooth, HDMI in/out and Chromecast Wi-Fi music.

The Bad The sound bar lacks DTS:X decoding, its performance with music isn't spectacular, and the dotted input display can be confusing.

The Bottom Line The excellent Vizio SB36512-F6 brings Dolby Atmos effects to a compact sound bar with rear speakers and a sub -- all for a very affordable price.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Sound 8
  • Value 9

The Dolby Atmos surround format offers excellent immersion in a home-theater environment, but until now sound bars with Atmos have not been very good values. For example, the $800 LG SK10Y was last year's cheapest bar, but it was only a middling performer. However, the Vizio SB36512-F6 ($498 at Walmart) changes everything. 

If you've been wanting the sweet, object-based surround effects of Atmos but you're uninterested in an AV receiver and a roomful of speakers, the Vizio SB36512-F6 ($498 at Walmart) will be music to your ears. The SB36512 is not only the first Atmos sound bar we've seen to hit the $500 mark, but it's also good. Really, really good.

2019 may see more Atmos sound bars at this price, but almost none include actual rear speakers. The Vizio does, and they make all the difference for immersive surround sound. Not only does the SB36512-F6 serve up great sound for the money, it also has all of the connectivity you'll need. Only its lack of DTS:X decoding and a less-successful performance with music could give the enthusiast pause. 

The Vizio SB36512-F6 ($498 at Walmart) offers excellent performance for the money and one of the best home cinema performances you can find for under a grand. We enthusiastically award it the CNET Editors' Choice award.

The look, the gear

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio hasn't changed the look of its sound bars in a few years, to the extent that one of the company's $130 models looks much the same as the $500-or-so one. The SB36512-F6 is fairly understated with its black cloth wrap and silver-colored ends.

At the top of the bar is a pair of upward-firing height speakers designed to beam Atmos effects off your ceiling and down into the room. There's a limited number of controls at the top, and the 36-inch wide bar is wall-mountable at the rear.

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Sarah Tew

The main weakness of the SB36512's design is the same as any other Vizio of recent years; the super-basic "display" on the unit. It's just a stack of LED dots, which may offer a useful gauge of the volume level but utterly fails when representing which input is currently active.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The wireless subwoofer is a black-and-silver shoebox with a ported 6-inch woofer. This unit helps the entire system get down to a claimed 40Hz.

The Vizio features five different types of physical connectivity: HDMI in/out (with ARC), coaxial, optical, USB (for .WAV playback, strangely) and a 3.5mm analog input jack. Wireless connections include Wi-Fi with Chromecast built in and Bluetooth. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is a proper wand rather than a plastic credit card, and it even includes a one-line LCD display, which is very useful for altering advanced settings or setting the sound bar up in the first place.

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