Speakers are often designed to appeal more to the eye than to the ear. That's why many modern sound bars are incredibly small -- barely an inch tall. They still sound better than the speakers in your TV, however, and the best can pack a full-sounding punch thanks to separate subwoofers you can stash in a discreet location.
At the high-end you have brands such as Chinese-American Vizio.and Bose, while at the more affordable end you have LG and Vizio. We were quite impressed with the features and sound of the $400 , but the Korean company's peaceful idyll is about to be disturbed by
Despite a few usability quirks and an awkward name, the $500 Vizio SB4551-D5 is one of the best sound bars you can buy for home theater. It includes actual surround speakers -- yes they're wired and not wireless, but they still create an immersive soundstage that bar-only systems can't match -- and one of the most discreet subwoofers we've seen. These components help create superb sound for the money, and Google Cast is just icing on the flat cake.
The key to the sound bar's size lies in that awkward name. This is a 45-inch wide sound bar that measures 2-inches high and deep. Vizio has again taken design cues from Definitive Technology, aping the faux aluminum endcaps and black steel mesh.
At the top of the main speaker lies a line of controls including input selection, Bluetooth pairing and volume. Unfortunately the front display is just an inscrutable series of small dots, and there is no on-screen display that can appear on your TV. The LG SH7B one-ups the Vizio with its large, easy-to-read alphanumeric readout. In its favor, Vizio's well-designed remote does display the input and other pertinent information.
That big flat box contains an 8-inch subwoofer. Just 3.5 inches tall, it's slim enough to be stashed underneath the couch, and comes with a pair of feet which enable it to stand on-end. As before the rear satellite speakers connect via really long cables to the subwoofer.
For the Vizio's $500 asking price most companies will only sell you a 2.1-channel sound bar sans satellite speakers, and any "wide" mode it uses to fake surround sound will seldom be convincing. The SB4551's included rear speakers really kick up the immersion a notch.
The SB4551 offers plenty of inputs which include HDMI in and out, coaxial and optical digital, 3.5mm analog, USB, Bluetooth and 802.11n wireless. The sound bar also comes with an Ethernet port, but if you follow the setup routine the Vizio will blithely ignore it and urge you to use Wi-Fi anyway.
Unlike some sound bars the Vizio will decode DTS and Dolby Digital.
Vizio introduced its SmartCast system with the release of its 2016 TV range, and now the feature extends to the company's sound bars and smart speakers. SmartCast is essentially a supercharged version of Google Cast with some extra Vizio functionality thrown in.
Music apps like Pandora and Spotify that work with Chromecast will also "see" the Vizio sound bar when you tap the little Cast icon. Doing so allows you to control playback through the 'bar using your phone.