Reviewer: Nathan Taylor
The Philips SoundBar HTS8140 is a combination of surround sound speakers and subwoofer, DVD player, digital audio decoder, radio tuner, high definition media player and iPod dock. It’s really a complete home theatre system in one neat package.
A product with an unusual aesthetic, the HTS8140 looks rather like an enormous iPod speaker dock, a little over a metre long with an attached subwoofer. It’s designed to sit beneath a flat screen, even supporting wall mounting.
It takes media from a variety of sources – stored on DVD or CD discs, iPods or USB devices – and plays the audio through its integrated speaker set, while pumping the video out to a high or standard definition television.
Analog and digital audio sockets for connecting outboard equipment such as a VCR, games console or pay TV decoder are provided, with the video from these sent directly to an accompanying TV. HDMI, component and composite (though no S-Video) connections handle the export of video to a display, with 1080p upscaling over HDMI provided. All connections are at the rear of the SoundBar behind a backplate, so if you’re wall mounting the system you will need to remove the SoundBar to access them.
The integrated speaker set, comprising six angled drivers and two tweeters along with an external (and massive) subwoofer, is designed to give you that surround sound feeling without the cables. It will play back 5.1 channel audio on a DVD disc without the need for metres of cabling or satellite speakers; instead it uses a technology that Philips call Ambisound – the speaker drivers are angled in such a way as to spread the sound around the lounge room, giving the impression of surround sound without the inconvenience of having speakers everywhere.
It will play back most of the common media types, including DivX and Xvid, as well as MP3 and Windows Media, which means it will handle just about any type of downloaded or ripped video or audio. It will also display JPG pictures stored on USB devices and iPods.
It’s all controlled using a supplied remote or a very cool touch-screen interface on the front of the SoundBar.
Although it’s not a true replacement for a conventional 5.1 channel speaker set, Ambisound works well. For the most part it delivers an experience that’s almost like having satellite speakers around the home theatre, but sometimes the surround experience gets slightly weird, with rear effects apparently coming from slightly in front of the seated listening position, rather than behind.
If you want the best possible surround sound experience, a full set of speakers is still your best bet. If you want convenience with acceptable performance, however, the SoundBar is a very good option. It produces clean sound with very good range and virtually no noise we could detect. Even the heavy subwoofer doesn’t muddy sounds at high volumes, and speech in films remains intelligible even when the volume is jacked up. And while Philips does not specify power output for the system, it went plenty loud enough in our tests.
The other elements of the SoundBar are also well implemented. The touchscreen control system works very well (even though you’ll be using the remote most of the time); the DVD upscaling actually delivers improved video quality that looks good on a high def screen; it plays downloaded media stored on USB devices with aplomb, and it handled all the different video formats we threw at it, including DivX and Xvid-encoded movies.
SoundBars are a growing category of audio, neatly solving for many households the problem of where to put five or so surround speakers. The Philips HTS8140 is a good implementation of the breed, and styled to look the goods too. It’s sleek, produces quality audio (though not quite as ‘surround’ as Philips would have you believe), upscales DVD video well and plays back downloaded media without a problem. It supports the iPod directly and other external players indirectly, and will mate happily with any flat panel TV, not just those from Philips.