The soundbar is a slender collection of speakers in a single housing that connects directly to the TV -- so there's no worrying about stringing up speaker wire. The devices have been around for a while, but those in this year's crop are cheaper and more powerful, and have the ability to connect to smartphones, tablets and PCs for streaming music.
Soundbar prices range from upwards of $1,400 for multiple speaker systems from Bose and Philips to $700 for the new Sonos Playbar and $100 to $200 for lower-end units from Samsung and Sony.
This week, TV manufacturer Vizio began shipping its latest, the S4251w-B4. At $329, (street price, $299) it is $200 less than Vizio's previous model. It also has built-in Bluetooth to stream music into the living room from a smartphone, tablet or PC.
"If you have a Spotify or Pandora account, just come in, pair the phone or device with the soundbar, and you're set," says Matthew DeHamer, a Vizio product manager. "You don't have to have the TV on."
Soundbars are filling a gap in the audio quality of many new TVs. As prices continue to fall for flat-panel television sets and models get thinner and larger, manufacturers have skimped on sound. Speakers on new TVs are generally inferior.
The Consumer Electronics Association projects that soundbar sales will rise 22% in 2013.
Bringing Internet-streamed music into the living room has been a huge push for wireless speaker company Sonos, which goes beyond Bluetooth with a series of smartphone and tablet apps that let the device act as a remote control for TV and music.
Consumer response to the Sonos Playbar has been greater than expected. "We can't make them fast enough," says Sonos CEO...