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CNET First Look
Vizio S4251w review: A sterling sound bar for surround sound devoteesVizio's S4251w sports rear speakers for unparalleled home theater sonics from a sound bar, although it has some quirks.
Hey. I'm Matthew Moskovciak from CNET and we're gonna take a look at the Vizio S4251W. This is Vizio's 5.1 soundbar system, which includes a soundbar, a wireless sub woofer and 2 rear channel speakers for a street price of around $330. The rear speakers are really what separate the Vizio from every other soundbar on the market. The design is actually really smart. The speakers connect to the wireless sub woofer, which you can place in the back of your living room. So, you don't have to run wires from the front to the back of your living room. That means you have a lot less clutter and you still get to enjoy the benefits of true rear speakers. The soundbar itself has a really nice understated design. It's pretty much all speaker grill from the front except for a small row of LED lights that give you some visual feedbacks so you know how loud the volume is set. It's not a particularly thin soundbar at 3.15 inches but it gives the system a substantial field that's missing from a lot of budget soundbars. The only issue with Vizio's design is that it might block your TV's remote sensor if you place it in front of your TV. That means you'll be angling your TV's remote over the soundbar everytime you need to change your TV's inputs. Now, it won't be a problem on every TV but it was an issue on the TV and CNET's lab and the Vizio doesn't have a remote signal passthrough feature like some competing soundbars such as the Sony HT-CT260. The remote that controls the Vizio is pretty cool. It has a great minimalist design, posters a built-in display. So, you don't have to squint across the room to look at the soundbar's menu. It's a neat design and it miles better than the remotes that come with other soundbars. Inputs on the back are basic. There's optical, coaxial, mini jack and analog, and that's gonna be plenty of inputs if you connect all your devices directly to the TV, then connect your TV's audio output to the soundbar, which is what the manual suggests. The Vizio also has built-in Bluetooth which is pretty much a must-have feature for soundbars this year. Bluetooth is the easiest way to wireless stream music from the vast majority of smartphones and tablets and it works with any app. So, you can load up Pandora on your phone and stream it right to your soundbar. For sound quality, the Vizio is able to deliver a home theater experience that other budget soundbars just aren't capable of. The rear channels really make a huge difference especially on movies, coming closer to the sound of an AV receiver and 5.1 channel speaker system than any other soundbar we've tested. Overall, it sounded better than the competing Sony HT-CT260 and it was neck and neck with the much larger Sharp HT-SB60. It's the most convincing home theater sound we've heard from a sound bar at this price. But one catch is that in most setups, you're not gonna quite get the full effect of that surround sound. That's because the majority of TVs down convert incoming audio signals the stereo. So, if you use your TV to switch between devices, the Vizio won't get it through Dolby Digital or DTS signal. Now, the Vizio still creates a fake surround mix from any stereo signal and in most cases, it sounds pretty good. But if you're stickler for a true surround mix, you may feel a little letdown by the Vizio. But overall, that's a minor flaw and what's an overall excellent sound bar system. It's not gonna work in every living room environment but if you really wanna get that true surround sound experience from a sound bar, the Vizio S4251W is an excellent performer with a solid feature set and it's hard to complain with a $330 price.