Is a Soundbar in Your Future?

Soundbars are a popular item right now.  When I’m traveling to product shows and conventions, every company seems to be making and displaying their soundbars.   Next time I go through a drive through to get my salad and yogurt (yeah, right), I will not be terribly surprised if someone asks me through the scratchy speaker “Want a soundbar with that?”

DO I?   Do I want a sound bar?  More importantly, do you want a so soundbar or would you like to know more about them? 

Let’s explore the wide world of soundbars, and whether a soundbar is something you should consider for your home.

What is a soundbar?

Sonos playbar and subwoofer

Sonos playbar and subwoofer.

A soundbar is a speaker system enclosed in a rectangular-ish box designed to work with your television.  Today’s TVs are so thin there is not much room for speakers inside. The sound quality tends to be uninspiring.  If you cut open a sound bar – which would be silly – you would see lots of stuff packed into the chassis including speakers, digital amplifiers, crossovers and other signal processing wizardry…and some tiny little people who live inside soundbars.  You may not see the wee soundbar people, but trust me they are in there.  Late at night, they speak to me  – but let’s keep that between us for now please.

Soundbars have a wide variety of designs and performance levels.   For instance, the number of audio channels may range from two channels (left and right) to many more.   Three channels are common (left, center, and right), but much of the simulated surround sound relates to the digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities of the soundbar.  Even if more channels are part of a particular soundbar’s specs, all of the sound is still generated from the single soundbar unit, although most soundbars are designed to provide the best results when used in conjunction with a separate subwoofer.

Another important differentiator is whether the sound bar is active or passive.  This does not mean an active subwoofer needs to be walked like a new puppy.  When a speaker is active it means that it provides its own power (amplification), whereas a passive speaker requires external amplification.   Whether you should consider an active or passive soundbar really depends on the application, and what you expect from your soundbar.

Should I use a soundbar?

The most important thing to consider before answering this question is the location of your TV and the design of your system.   For example, imagine you want better sound for your master bedroom TV.   In this instance, you could consider a powered soundbar from a quality company such as Bose or Sonos, and I certainly suggest using the subwoofer designed for those products.  As a side note, don’t just think explosions and crashes when you think of a subwoofer.   There is a lot going on in the low frequencies of programming and music, and your soundbar will sound much better when paired with a subwoofer.  So yes, for smaller to average-sized rooms a soundbar can be a good idea.  In this example, the soundbar would most likely be active, as would the sub.

Another way we frequently deploy sound bars is by specifying a “LCR” bar as part of a larger system.  LCR refers to left, center, and right audio channels, not political leanings.  In this type of system, imagine a TV over a fireplace in a multi-purpose family room.  We would mount a soundbar directly under the TV, and use rear surround speakers along with a subwoofer to create a true surround sound system.  This style soundbar is passive, and would rely on a separate amplifier and signal processing, either from an integrated Audio-Visual Receiver (AVR) or separate components.   In this type of design, there is usually a compromise because of design and space considerations and the LCR bar fits the bill nicely.  We can even order a custom soundbar so it is the exact length of your TV in order to get the best appearance.

IMG_2557

Samsung TV and custom sound bar from Leon recently installed at a client’s Wellesley, MA home by Elite Media Solutions.

This photo shows one of our recent installations in Wellesley with a Samsung display and a low-profile custom soundbar from Leon.  Note how the soundbar almost appears as part of the TV to keep a sleek appearance.   Not shown are the ceiling mounted surround speakers and a subwoofer.  This sound bar provides the left, center, and right audio channels.

Connectivity Considerations

When using a soundbar (with or without a subwoofer) with a TV in a stand-alone system, your source devices (like a blue-ray player or Apple TV) will connect to your TV through an HDMI cable, and then the digital audio return from the TV connects to the soundbar, normally with a digital optical cable.  The bad news is that most TVs down convert the incoming surround sound signal back to stereo.   This is where the soundbar’s signal processing circuitry comes back into the mix; to take the stereo signal and simulate a surround-sound effect.   Some manufacturers are better at this than others.  There are some sound bars that also have HDMI inputs, and will decode Dolby and DTS audio formats properly.

 Installations

A soundbar can get mounted on the wall, usually below the TV.  Although this isn’t really difficult, nobody wants to see the wires, so it is best to have a professional handle the install.  Another option is to place the soundbar on a cabinet.  Some soundbars have side-firing speakers, so avoid placing those soundbars inside cabinet for best performance.

What to Remember

Soundbars certainly have a place in today’s homes, whether as part of your main system or in a secondary location such as a bedroom, playroom, or vacation home.   A big consideration is where the TV and soundbar will be located, and your performance expectations.   A compact soundbar is not going to give you the same immersive experience as larger separate speakers, whether those speakers are built-in or floor-standing.  Make sure you get advice from a home electronics expert because you may feel overwhelmed by all of the soundbar options on the market!   Click here for a short video from Bose about their Lifestyle 135 soundbar and subwoofer combo.  This is one of my favorite soundbars with great sound processing, something that Bose does extremely well.   Give us a call at (781) 237-2929 to schedule a demo for yourself in our Wellesley, MA showroom. 

Elite Media Solutions provides quality audio, video, home theater, lighting control, motorized shades, home automation, and more to clients in the Boston, Brookline, Newton, Wellesley, Dover, Sherborn, Medfield, Weston, Wayland, Westwood, Walpole, Norfolk and surrounding areas.   Bose dealer, Sonos dealer in the Boston area.

5 on 4! 5 Questions on Ultra HD 4k Televisions

By Steve McDonough

4k Ultra HD takes your video to the next level

4k Ultra HD takes your video to the next level

By now, most people have heard about the arrival of 4k, or Ultra High Definition televisions.  You probably have questions about 4k televisions, and are wondering if you should consider a 4k TV for your next TV purchase.  So, let’s venture into the world of 4k Ultra HD and answer some common questions about the newest Ultra HD displays, available content, and more.  4k projectors are also available.   Don’e get confused by the terminology, 4k, Ultra HD, and UHD all refer to the same thing.

Q: Just what is 4k / UHD?

4K is not just a shorter road race, but a significant increase in picture quality over the current offering of standard High Definition televisions.  Without getting too technical, current HD sets provide a resolution of 1920 x 1080, making an image of about 2 megapixels.  4k resolution is 4096 x 2160, but Ultra HD TVs have a resolution of 3840 x 2160, or four times higher than the full HD spec of 1920 x 1080.    The take away is that Ultra HD picture quality is a significant bump in picture quality.

Q: Why Are the 4k sets only available in larger sizes?

A higher pixel count allows larger images to be created before they start to break up. Picture resolution is also related to your viewing distance, meaning  you can sit closer to a higher-quality display without the pixel grid becoming noticeable.   Viewing distance and screen size relate to how much of an immersive viewing experience can be experienced.

The first 4k sets released were 84″ sets from Sony and LG.  Smaller sizes, such as 55″ displays are also rolling out.   Would it make sense to buy a small 4k TV, even if they were available?  Probably not right now; but 4k really pays off with larger televisions.  I have seen the Sony 55″ UHD TV, and it was nice, but the 65″ and larger sizes seem to make more sense if you are going to spend the money on a 4k television, at least in my opinion.  Of course, as prices adjust this situation is fluid.

Q:  I read there is limited content available for 4k TVs, is that true?

Yes, you can only watch The Wiggles or a new 4k channel that only broadcasts synchronized swimming.

Seriously now, this is a completely reasonable question, but the answer is somewhat involved.    It is important to remember that as a new technology, the amount of 4k content available is somewhat limited, but that situation is expected to change soon, and there are good reasons to feel confident about the expanding amount of 4k content on the not too distant horizon.  There are other benefits of a 4k TV that will make your existing content look even better.

Here is some background info about what you can watch on your 4k TV, and why I wouldn’t worry about a lack of content.

  • First, many existing movie cameras already film at 4k and higher resolutions.  Most major films and television shows are filmed in 4 or even 5k already.
  • Many films are mastered at 4k resolution.
  • 4k Blue Ray discs are going to be stunning.  The Blue-Ray disc association is apparently still trying to agree on universal standards, but reports state that machinery designed to make 100GB discs is already in production.    Industry insiders hint at announcements concerning this exciting new format to be announced soon.
  • 4k content is already broadcast on TV.  Content in Europe (by satellite) started in early 2013, and the BBC is filing shows for broadcast in 4k, or even 8k.  South Korea also has 4k programming, though limited.
  • Sony provides a 4k movie vault pre-loaded with movies, and has already introduced their 4k movie download service with 7o titles, and lots more on the way.   In fact, there could be more titles available by the time you read this.
  • Sony is introducing a 4k video camera for consumers.
  • 4k video games are expected to provide amazing detail, and are on the horizon.

And let’s not forget who the big players are in the video market and in terms of movies and other media.   With companies such as Sony, Samsung, and LG all clearly on board with 4k, I don’t think we need to worry about a lack of content.   When you purchase a 4k TV today, you are future-proofing yourself…at least until the next big thing comes along!

Q:  Besides 4k content, are there any real benefits to getting a  4k/ UHD display?

Absolutely!  A 4k set does make current programming look better.  Greater pixel density makes for a smoother picture, faster frame rates, better contrast, and deeper colors are all real benefits that make for a superior viewing experience. Upscaling technology takes 1080p content and improves it to near 4k quality; meaning you can watch one of your Blue-ray movies on your 4k Ultra HD display and see a better image; but the difference with a non Blue-ray disc is even more noticeable from what I have heard.  Haven’t tried that experiment myself yet.   Of course having a quality disc player is another important factor to realize this benefit.

Q:  Should I buy a 4k TV or not?

If you search the web, you will find plenty of articles that say hold off on a 4k purchase, but check the dates carefully of those articles and posts.   Manufacturer’s have already reduced prices of some 4k sets, and more choices are rolling out.  Remember years ago when HD first arrived and how much of a “wow!” it was; 4k technology is even a bigger “WOW!” and it is not a gimmick, like many people think of 3D.  So, yes…go ahead and buy a 4k TV if you are looking for a larger display (at least 55″) and want to have the best image quality and not be outdated in the near future.

If you want more information about 4k / Ultra High Definition televisions, please call Elite Media Solutions of Wellesley, MA at (781) 237 – 2929. 

4K and Ultra HD TV dealer serving Weston, Wayland, Dover, Boston, Sherborn, Medfield, Natick, Newton, Brookline, Winchester, Bedford, Concord, Lexington areas and beyond!

 

Balancing Your TV Location and Interior Design – 5 Tips

Note: This post originally appeared on the Boston Design Guide Blog!   Check it out by clicking here!

Just like real estate, location is a top consideration when it comes to televisions – especially in a multi-use room where most of us watch TV.  Your display should fit the room.  Whereas some people just focus on selecting a “gi-normous” flat-panel television, I think it is important to consider the design elements in the space and integrate the display accordingly. Remember the following bits of advice:

  • No law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires mounting a television over the fireplace.
  • Don’t ruin your relationship with your significant other by arguing over-size or locations for your TV.

Although the spot above your fireplace could be a good location for your television, it may not be the look you, your spouse, or your designer envisions for the room.  So, how should you handle the sometimes-delicate balance between design aesthetic and a good location for a flat-panel TV?

Glad you asked!  Many options exist, so be creative and enlist the help of a home entertainment firm experienced with custom installations.  In the alternative, you might try “rock, paper, scissors” or a grueling thumb-wrestling tournament with the winner getting to decide.  In the meantime, here are five things to consider when thinking about TV placement:

Option 1 – Acceptance

A flat panel television may not be the most beautiful thing in the world. The good news is that many of today’s televisions do look better – maybe at least a seven I’d say.  Besides being extremely thin like me (big lie), the edge bezel is almost non-existent on many of the newer models, meaning more glass and a nicer overall appearance.  Learning to accept your TV is the least expensive option.  Just learn to embrace the look and then have your TV installed on a quality mount or on a cabinet by a professional so that no wires or cables are visible and it is at the correct height, etc.  There a wide variety of mounts available, from fixed to fully articulating low-profile options.

Option 2 – Here’s Lookin’ at You

Whether turned on or off, this TV from Seura looks fantastic and blends nicely with your decor.

Whether turned on or off, this TV from Seura looks fantastic and blends nicely with your decor.

Here’s an idea! Just buy some really expensive fabric and drape the TV with it.  I call this “Swag-o-Vision.” When you want to watch a movie, just carefully remove the fabric and…Ta-dah!

Ok, this is a clearly a silly idea, but wait… what if your television didn’t even look like a television? What if your television transformed itself into an attractive framed mirror as soon as the “Off” button on your remote or iPad was selected? Such options are readily available.  Seura makes fantastic displays that become mirrors when powered off, and they have over 100 frames available in various styles and shapes as long as it is a rectangle. Seura TVs are available from a 32” to a 65” and I’ll add that they are nice folks and build a premium product.   Yes, you will pay more for one of their sets, but this option may be a great idea for your room.

Option 3 – Night at the Museum 

Perhaps you don’t love the mirror idea and you really wanted artwork over the fireplace or at another location in your room that would also be a good spot for your display.  No problem, you can have both! We can take care of that by using a moving frame that holds artwork, hiding the TV until you’re ready to watch.  The entire frame can move out-of-the-way vertically or horizontally, or your art can roll up out-of-the-way to reveal the screen.   Personally, I like a painting of a television to hide the television, but I’m a rebel.  I like the products available from Media Décor, and you can click here to see some of the art frame options available.

Option 4 – “TV?  We Don’t Need No TV!” 

Like the line above from the 1948 film, Treasure of the Sierra Madre referencing proper law enforcement identification, and later used in Blazing Saddles of course, you could decide to just go without. NO TV?  Many of you are likely surprised that a TV, music, and smart-home professional is suggesting this option.

Please allow me to explain. How about considering something larger than any readily available flat-panel that provides an amazing viewing experience, and then just disappears?  Just call me The Wizard of Awes.

Just add a projector and a retractable screen. Problem solved! People sometimes fail to consider projection systems and think they only belong in a dedicated home theater.   Today’s projectors and screens may be a great choice in certain rooms, even multi-purpose rooms.  Screens are available in many sizes, allow the viewing of different video formats, and can retract up into your ceiling or a soffit when not in use.    It’s tricky if you ask us to hide an 80-inch TV, but we can hide a large retractable screen without ruining your view.

One of our current projects involves a luxury hi-rise condo in Boston with great views.  You can see the State House and skyline from there, but not Russia.  The resident’s view will be clear when not watching a movie or TV, because the 120” screen will retract at the touch of button.   The projector can be hidden in some applications as well, and some projectors can be ordered in custom colors and boast sports car-like curves.

Option 5 – Need a Lift?

Another way to get your TV out of sight is by using a motorized lift to move your TV effortlessly in and out of a cabinet, the ceiling, the floor, or even out from below your bed!   Yes, that is going to set you back a pretty penny or two.  Mechanisms can also swivel the display, so different configurations are possible depending on the project requirements. Furniture with lifts pre-installed are available, but may not suit your specific purpose or taste.  One popular option is a cabinet at the foot of the bed with a lift for the TV.

 

When planning a location for your display, don’t forget wires and cable requirements along with thinking about where the other components of your system will be installed. Be creative, and reach out to professionals to help you integrate video, music and other products into your home with style, no matter what your décor.

Steve McDonough is Vice President at Elite Media Solutions of Wellesley, MA.  You can learn more by visiting their new website and blog at EliteMediaSoutions.com, or email Steve at smcdonough@elitemediasolutions.com

Elite Media Solutions of Wellesley, MA is your source for music systems, TV, video, home theater, motorized shades and automated window treatments, lighting control, and home automation.    We also provide quality seating and AV furniture for your home.  Serving Boston and the surrounding areas, including Weston, Wayland, Bedford, Wayland, Norfolk, Dover, Sherborn, Needham, Hingham, Natick, Framingham, Newton, Brookline, Concord, Canton, Medfield,  Lexington, and Cape Cod.  Call us at (781) 237-2929 to discuss your next project with us.