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Sound bars are often thought of as replacements for full 5.1 home theater systems, but the Vizio VHT510 is a sound bar that is a 5.1 home theater system. Its unique design includes two rear speakers that connect directly to the wireless sub, which means you can stash the sub in the back of your home theater along with the rear speaker--no need to run cables from the front of the room to the back. More importantly, it has outstanding sound quality for a sound bar in this price range.
The VHT510 isn't perfect, as its connectivity options are limited and widespread user opinions indicate a high rate of failure on the front-panel indicator lights. (Vizio says the issue has been fixed and faulty units can be replaced.) And some "style-first" buyers may be turned off by the extra wires required for the rear channels, even if they do offer better sound quality. Still, the Vizio VHT510 is a downright bargain at its $320 street price, and we think it's an excellent solution for buyers who want the simplicity of a sound bar with a true surround-sound experience.
The main speaker of the VHT510 looks like a typical sound bar, with a long cylindrical design. It feels a little light (and cheap) when you pick it up, but it looks stylish enough from the outside, with the matte-black speaker grille dominating the look from the front. While many sound bars often don't provide stable supports on the bottom for placing on a TV stand, the VHT510 has two sturdy silver feet that keep it in place.
As we mentioned, the rear speakers connect directly to the wireless sub, not the sound bar. That means you can place the sub in the back of your room, connect it to the surround speakers, and not have to run wires from the front of your home theater to the back. (The sub needs an AC power source, too, of course.) The only problem is that you'll be sacrificing some sound quality; we generally recommend placing the sub relatively close to the sound bar to get a better blend between the sub and sound bar. Whether that's an acceptable compromise is up to you. We will note that the speaker wire included with the rear speakers is an unsightly bronze color, so you'll want to find a way to hide them.
A near-perfect remote
The included remote for the VHT510 is the best we've seen on a sound bar unit. The basic design is exceedingly simple, with just volume controls, plus a power and mute button.
That's plenty control for the average user (and even for the advanced user 90 percent of the time), but the remote gets even better by including more-advanced functionality via a slide-out panel. You can switch inputs and make all kinds of sonic adjustments on the fly. We especially appreciated having direct control over the subwoofer level. Plenty of remotes have slide-out panels, but the Vizio's is just done particularly well. Short of buying a universal remote, this is as good as it gets.
|Front panel display||Yes||Virtual surround||Yes|
|Other: Rear speakers|
Like most sound bars in this price range, the VHT510 has a wireless subwoofer and the aforementioned remote. The wireless sub is a step up over the otherwise excellent Sony HT-CT150, which has a wired subwoofer.
The major standout feature is the VHT510's rear speakers, which are uncommon on sound bar home theater systems. That's a plus for buyers who are looking for a sound bar that sounds better than, well, a sound bar, but it might be a minus for more style-conscious buyers who are looking to simplify the home theater experience.
The VHT510 also has a front-panel display of sorts, but there's a catch. When it's working, it's actually quite helpful, with lights behind the speaker grille letting you know exactly how loud the volume is and giving an indication as to which input you're on. The problem is that widespread user reviews at stores like Amazon mention that the display tends to break, often only after a few days. Vizio says the problem has been fixed and owners of defective models can get a replacement. Still, we'd make sure you purchase it from a store with a reliable return policy, just in case.
|HDMI inputs||0||Coaxial inputs||0|
|Optical inputs||1||Minijack input||No|
|Analog audio inputs||1||Max connected devices||2|
The Vizio VHT510's connectivity options are limited, with just one optical audio input and one analog audio input. That's just not enough for many home theaters, so you'll likely end up using your TV for switching between several devices. There are two main downsides to that configuration. One, you'll have to juggle two remotes, with the TV remote to switch inputs and the Vizio remote to adjust volume. Two, the audio output from many HDTVs downmix surround sources to just stereo, so you'll lose the full benefit the VHT510's rear speakers.
|Dolby TrueHD||No||DTS-HD Master Audio||No|
Like nearly every other sound bar HTIB, standard Dolby and DTS decoding are handled by the Vizio VHT510, but not Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. 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 budget speaker system like the VHT510.
The VHT510 sound bar can be placed on a shelf in front of your TV or wall-mounted by reorienting the speaker's sturdy metal feet for use as wall brackets.
The surround speakers come with 20-foot-long wires with special connectors that plug into the subwoofer. That's long enough if you place the subwoofer in the back of the room, but we're concerned that the wires might not be long enough for some home theaters if you place it in the front, especially those where the wires have to run over doorways. The little surround speakers can be wall mounted with the keyhole slots on their backsides, or placed on a table or stand.
The wireless subwoofer has a range of up to 80 feet, but for the best sound we'd recommend placing it within 4 or 5 feet of the sound bar. The pairing of the wireless subwoofer and the sound bar was automatic.
Considering that this is a 5.1-channel system, we were a little surprised that Vizio didn't provide an automatic or manual setup process. If you're comfortable with home theater gear, though, you won't miss it. It's easy to make on-the-fly adjustments for subwoofer, center, and surround channel volume; bass and treble tone controls; SRS Circle Cinema surround processing; and SRS TruVolume dynamic range compression via the remote.
The VHT510 is a bona fide 5.1-channel system, and that factor alone put its sound well ahead of most two- or three-channel sound bars. Some feature some type of virtual surround processing, but true 5.1-channel sound bar systems are pretty rare.
We thought that the VHT510 had the sonic gravitas and poise of a larger system. The sound was on par with similarly priced 5.1-channel home-theater-in-a-box systems, and while we feel that surround processing modes aren't always as effective as they should be, Vizio's implementation of SRS Circle Cinema processing really heightened the sense of sonic envelopment. The SRS TruVolume was also quite effective in reducing movies' soft-to-loud dynamic contrasts for late night listening sessions.
We initially put the VHT510 through its paces with the J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek" Blu-ray. The sound in space of the U.S.S. Enterprise's engines was massive, and the electronic noises on the flight deck seemed to come from all around us. The action sequences and numerous explosions never overtaxed the VHT510, and the little subwoofer's bass never overtly distorted or lost control. Dialogue was naturally balanced, and intelligibility was excellent.
A face-off with LG's LSB316 sound bar system only increased our admiration for the VHT510's sound. The Rolling Stones' "Four Flicks" concert DVD set proved the LSB316 could play nice and loud, but it didn't sound as powerful as the VHT510. Some of the difference could be attributed to the VHT510's sub's punchier sound, but that system's room-filling surround sound made the LSB316's stereo soundstage seem rather flat and two-dimensional by comparison. The VHT510's superior clarity on the Stones' acoustic tunes like "Angie" was readily apparent.
We had to remind ourselves that the VHT510 is a $300 sound bar system again when we played CDs. The sound was much closer to what we've heard from the better similarly priced HTIB systems, like the Samsung HT-C6500. The VHT510 flattered K.D. Lang's strong vocals on her "Ingenue" CD, and the album's strings and lush arrangements were well served.