It is a well established fact now that soundbars have become a worthy option as a solution for a home theatre system. Virtually every brand in the market have released their iteration of one. However, traditional soundbars basically come with a subwoofer and nothing else. This is where their main competition, 5.1 channel home theatre systems have an advantage over them as the latter comes with a dedicated music and video player, as opposed to simply speakers. On the other hand, the average cost of soundbars is around the Rs.30,000 mark, which gives a consumer a choice of choosing a 5.1 channel home theatre system, instead, as they too cost approximately the same. Philips have changed the game with the HTS5131/94 soundbar, to quite an extent by adding a Blu-ray player integrated in it. Read on to know if this can pose as a worthy challenger to the surround sound experience of a traditional 5.1 channel home theatre system.
The panel housing the Blu-ray player located in the centre
Design and Build Quality
Soundbars are generally expected to be of a smaller size, since they ought to be placed in front of a television. This is done in order to complement an HDTV. However, having an integrated Blu-ray player, the Philips HTS5131/94 is larger than most space conscious soundbars, measuring at 123 x 309 x 369 mm. Dressed in all black, this speaker system, even though large, can still complement one's home. One would, however, need to carefully select where they place it, though because if the TV is placed on its stand then the lower part of the television is blocked by the soundbar. If such is the case, then the television needs to be wall mounted to accommodate the soundbar. If not, then it can be placed in a position that is lower than the television.
The Blu-ray unit of the player is located at the centre of the speaker system. This panel features a slot loading mechanism at the side to load the Blu-rays. This panel at the front features a glossy surface, unlike the rest of the body, which has a slightly textured finish. Combining the two different textures, results in one attractive looking speaker system. Getting back to the front panel, the glossy finish adds a lot of class to the soundbar and in this area is the LCD display. There are touch sensitive buttons located just below the display. These buttons are for power, volume, source select, play/ pause and stop. A lot of residue from fingerprints can come on the panel, while pressing these buttons due to its high gloss finish, which will take away the rich look of the player.
The remote control is built well
Connectivity options are all featured at the back and these include inputs for AUX, coaxial, optical, Ethernet and an FM antenna. The output options for this soundbar, include composite and HDMI. Apart from these, there is also a port for an iPod dock. The soundbar comes with a subwoofer as well. This speaker is not very large and can be kept on the ground without taking up much space. The remote control that comes bundled with the television is oblong in shape and Philips have strayed away from the traditional rectangular shaped remotes. The remote feels comfortable to use over extended periods of time and the build quality is good as well.
The overall build quality of this speaker system is quite good and we did not find anything wrong with it. The only issue is one may need to be careful with the speaker cloth as it appears to be soft and can be torn easily if used roughly.
As far as soundbar features go, one usually finds that it comes with a subwoofer and some inputs that allow it to be connected to other devices, like a gaming console or a player. However, with the speaker featuring an integrated Blu-ray player, the need for an additional player is negated. This of course is the chief feature of this soundbar and rightfully so, as not many soundbars in the market come with this form of functionality. A neat aspect of this player is that it not only supports optical disks, such as Blu-rays and DVDs, but also Video CDs, thereby expanding the range of disks supported.
Soundbars are designed to be a replacement for 5.1 channel speaker systems, as the latter consumes a lot of space in one’s home. The HTS5131/94 is no different and it features Philips Virtual Surround Sound, which aims to emulate this surround sound experience. Apart from the Blu-ray capability, this speaker set also gives users the option to attach a USB drive to the system to view content, such as pictures, music and videos. The USB drive can read NTFS as well as FAT32 drives. We connected a number of external hard drives to it and it read the drives instantly.
There are a range of video formats supported here and these include, AVCHD, DivX Plus HD, MPEG1, MPEG2 and MPEG4. As far as audio formats are concerned, the player supports AAC, MP3, WAV and WMA. It also supports a range of Dolby codecs, such as Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS Digital Surround and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio. This helps in enhancing the audio quality, while watching movies or listening to music generally. These are very common audio and video formats and files and files recorded by smartphones or cameras support these video formats. The interface of the soundbar is not that visually pleasing as it is a simple blue screen with the different widgets. However, this interface is common for most Philips players. Scrolling through the interface is simple and the windows open up in a partition format. This allows one to view content within a folder.
Connector for an iPod dock
On either sides of the panel there are speakers, which feature a single 1-inch tweeter and two 2.5-inch tweeters. Philips claims that the combined power output of the speakers is 200W. The subwoofer that comes as part of this set-up features a 6-inch driver that is side firing and the brand rates it at 200W. The total output of the speaker and subwoofer is 400W RMS. This output should be ample for those with a small to medium house. Overall, the feature list of this soundbar is good for those wanting to purchase an all-in-one solution for a home theatre system. The only thing we found lacking was an HDMI input for connecting an additional system like a gaming console.
The performance of the HTS5131/94 was tested on a number of factors. To start off, we found the set-up process extremely easy as all one had to do was connect the power cable, the subwoofer and an HDMI to the television. After this, the set-up is complete. The interface is easy to use and one can get accustomed to it within a matter of minutes. There is virtually no learning curve here and Philips have designed it in a way that virtually anyone can understand it.
The YouTube page
All one needs to do to play back discs is push open the panel and slot the Blu-ray in. The time that the slot takes to load is pretty quick and we faced no issues, as such regarding it getting stuck. During Blu-ray playback, we observed that the video quality was excellent and with the surround sound turned on, we felt the 3D effect, which the speakers aim to offer. This speaker system does the job of providing surround sound a lot better, than most of the other soundbars available in the market. While watching movies we noticed that the voices were crisp and not muffled at all. During action sequences we noticed that sounds could be heard from the side and slightly from the back as well. One can really enjoy watching movies with this home theatre system.
To test standard definition playback, we connected an NTFS drive and we observed that the interface for it loaded quite swiftly. Standard definition content played back smoothly and though it was not as good as the Blu-ray, it still provided an above average job of getting one engrossed in the video clip. This has a lot to do with the audio quality of the speakers as well.
Interface for Picasa
During audio playback, we observed that the bass, though audible, did not pack the punch we wanted. It was rather soft, overall. However, it does do a decent job of interlacing with the audio from the speakers making them all feel like they fire together and not as separate units. The drivers on the soundbar are much better in comparison and they are quite loud. The speakers render highs and mids really well in comparison to the bass, which is in no means bad.
The player comes with video streaming capabilities by using YouTube. The layout of this page is simple, but nicely designed giving one the option to easily select or search for content they want. The overall performance of the speaker system is really good especially for this price range.
Soft speaker cloth featured on this all-in-one unit
The Philips HTS5131/94 is available in India at a MRP of Rs.34,990. The system looks really good, despite it being on the larger side. If one can position this proportionately with respect to the television, then this soundbar can complement the TV as well as one’s home. Feature-wise, the soundbar is pretty well packed, as it features a Blu-ray player, has the ability to read hard drives as well as smart TV capabilities to an extent. As far as the performance of this system goes, it does really well allowing one to get engrossed in the content of the system. If anyone is in the market, looking out for a home theatre system with an Blu-ray player and has a house that is not very big, then this this should make for an ideal choice. However, if anyone considers themselves audiophiles, then this may not be the choice for them.
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