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Vizio VHT210 review: Vizio VHT210

OVR
7.3

Vizio VHT210

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Sound bar home theater system; compact design, especially the wireless subwoofer; no AV receiver required; better-than-average sound on two-channel music; excellent remote control design; useful "SRS True Volume" control.

The Bad

No HDMI connectivity; only two inputs (one optical digital, one analog stereo); may not get loud enough for some; no DTS decoding.

The Bottom Line

The Vizio VHT210 sound bar sports an uncommonly compact design and sounds better playing music than the average in its class, but its input options are limited.

Vizio entered the sound bar market last year, with the VSB210WS, showing that the upstart TV manufacturer's trademark mix of "good-enough" performance and affordable pricing works in the home audio market, too. The VHT210 is Vizio's latest sound bar model and though it's not quite as cheap ($270 list price), it still has a lot going for it. Its design is one of the best we've seen, with both the sound bar and wireless sub boasting a compact form factor that won't dominate your living room. Its sound quality isn't the best we've heard--it doesn't get quite as loud as some competitors--but it does handle stereo music better than most sound bars we test. Our major disappointment was on the connectivity side; the VHT210 has only two inputs, compared with many competitors, like the Sony HT-CT150 and JVC TH-BA1, that offer more. That being said, if you've got a simple home theater setup and style is a priority, the Vizio VHT210 is a savvy choice.

Design
The idea of the sound bar is to shrink the home theater down to a single enclosure, but even by those standards the VHT210 is compact. The sound bar itself is just 31.5 inches wide by 4 inches high by 3.13 inches deep. At 4.6 pounds, it feels incredibly light when you pull it out of the package. It has a familiar cylindrical shape that sits on two silver, built-in legs. The front is dominated by the matte-gray speaker grille, with just a slim rectangle of silver at the top. There are also a few buttons on the top of the unit to adjust the volume of switch inputs. The VHT210's wireless subwoofer (11.18 inches wide by 13 inches high by 11.86 inches deep) is also tiny, even by HTIB standards. The design won't satisfy people looking for more intangible characteristics like "build quality"--it feels a little cheap--but otherwise we think it's one the best overall designs for a sound bar.

VHT210's buttons
There are four buttons on the top for volume, power, and input selection.

There's no traditional LCD screen; instead, the VHT210 features a series of lights hidden behind the speaker grille that become visible when you adjust the volume. Those same lights are also used when selecting inputs, but it's not quite as intuitive. (Three lights show up and each one corresponds with an input, but you have to know which represents which.) Overall the lights work well for adjusting volume, but are confusing for selecting inputs.

The included remote flaunts its minimalism. Power button up top, volume control in the center and mute at the bottom--that's it. We're always asking for simpler remotes and the VHT210 actually gets it right. Even better, you can slide out the bottom of the remote to reveal a few more controls, includes treble, bass, and subwoofer adjustments, SRS controls, and input buttons. The glossy finish collects fingerprints and the slide-out action could be a little smoother, but those are nitpicks on what's an excellent overall remote.

Features

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key features
3D pass-through No Subwoofer Wireless
Remote Yes LCD display No

For this price range, the VHT210's feature set is standard. There's no video pass-through of any kind, so you'll need to run video connections directly to your HDTV. That means you'll need to juggle multiple remotes to change inputs, or invest in a quality universal remote. The only sound bar with video switching in this price range is the Sony HT-CT150, which has three HDMI inputs. Also note that though the VHT210 technically doesn't have an LCD display, the aforementioned lights behind the speaker grille almost completely make up for the shortcoming.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">AV connectivity
HDMI inputs 0 Analog audio inputs 1
Optical inputs 1 Coaxial inputs 0
Minijack input No Max. connected ext. devices 2

The VHT210's biggest weakness is its paltry connectivity options. Just two total inputs (one optical digital, one analog stereo) mean that the VHT210 will likely suffice only for relatively simple home theaters. You can connect more devices by using your TV as a switcher if it has an audio output, but that's not always an option.

It's also worth mentioning that the VHT210 has built-in "Vizio HD Wireless Audio technology," which is a proprietary wireless audio standard that Vizio will be releasing products for later this year. Vizio said there will be a wireless iPod dock using this technology, but hasn't announced other products that take advantage of it.

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

Only standard Dolby decoding is handled by the VHT210. That's not terrible, especially since high-resolution soundtracks like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio wouldn't sound much better on a system like this, but we would have liked standard DTS support, at least, which is available on most competitors. The lack of DTS won't matter for most products, as its easy to set your external devices to decode to PCM.

Setup
The VHT210 can be wall- or shelf-mounted with the supplied bracket; we went with the second option. Unlike a lot of trendily thin sound bars that easily tip over, Vizio's angled, metal brackets provide a stable footing for shelf-mounting.

When we first turned on the VHT210, the wireless subwoofer didn't automatically link with the sound bar speaker, so we pressed the "link" button on the sub's rear panel, and a few seconds later we started getting bass out of the thing. The sub then continuously worked perfectly, without dropouts, noise, or other malfunctions. Vizio claims the sub will play at distances up to 60 feet from the sound bar, but we recommend placing the sub within a few feet. Much further away and you'll start to hear the sub as a separate sound source.

The VHT210 doesn't have a manual or automatic speaker setup/calibration program, and it doesn't need one. The two-channel sound bar's volume levels are fixed, but you can adjust the subwoofer volume, bass, and treble levels from the remote. Visual conformation of the adjustments is provided in the form of dimly lit LED indicators arrayed across the lower edge of the sound bar.

Audio performance
If this sound bar and subwoofer's unusually compact dimensions initially led us to underestimate what the VHT210 could do, we were pleasantly surprised by its full-bodied sound. Clearly, the VHT210 was ready to tackle a grizzly horror flick, the original "Saw."

Much of the action in that film takes place in one room, where two men are chained to opposite walls, and there's a dead body on the floor between them. A psychopathic man taunts the men in various ways. The room, which looks like an abandoned bathroom, is very reverberant, and there are water dripping sounds coming from all around. Listening first with the SRS TruSurround HD turned off, the sound was spacious; turning the SRS on (with one button on the remote) significantly improved the surround effect, so that it nearly filled the entire front wall of the CNET listening room. Nice, but SRS TruSurround HD wasn't powerful enough to create truly enveloping surround sound.

The film score's percussive accents and electronic effects packed a healthy wallop. Dialogue wasn't slighted by the VHT210, which didn't sound small--that's for sure. To finish up with "Saw," we demo-ed the SRS True Volume feature that minimizes abrupt volume level shifts in action movies. It worked well and didn't adversely affect the sound quality of the film.

We used the brutal battle scenes from the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray to compare the VHT210 with Samsung's HW-C450 sound bar/subwoofer system. The contest didn't take long, the fiery helicopter crash and street level gunfire exchanges between the American soldiers and enemy insurgents had greater impact and kicked harder over the Samsung. It also had a fuller and clearer sound. The VHT210's subwoofer wasn't bad for its size, but it was no match for the HW-C450's sub, which produced deeper bass with superior definition. The VHT210 will probably play loud enough for most buyers, including us, but when we played "Black Hawk Down" with the volume at maximum level it was just loud enough. If you really like to crank the volume the Vizio might fall short for you; the Samsung could play louder without strain.

To be fair, the Samsung bar and sub are significantly larger than the Vizio's, and the Samsung is a bit more expensive, so you get what you pay for. Our CNET listening room is fairly large; the VHT210's limitations would be less apparent in smaller rooms.

The VHT210 bettered the Samsung in one area: it was one of the best-sounding sound bar systems we've heard with CDs. Willie Nelson's new "Country Music" album came through with its acoustic tones fully intact, and Nelson's voice was in fine form. It's a recording that sounds gorgeous, and a total pleasure to listen to over the VHT210.

Rock music can be a tough challenge for sound bars, but the VHT210's competency with the CD of the Talking Heads' "Fear of Music" DualDisc was impressive at low-to-moderate volume levels. Within limits, the VHT210 can rock fairly hard, though not up to the standard you'd get from larger home theater in a box systems.

Judged as a budget-priced sound bar system, we'd rate the VHT210's home theater performance as just below average, but it's one of the better-sounding bars for two channel music.