Raising the Bar for Sound

by | Tuesday 30th October 2018

The birth of the soundbar mainly stemmed out of the poor audio quality of recent flat panel TVs. The flat panel TV cabinet design works against the audio designer as it is not a feasible task to squeeze high-quality audio components (good sounding speakers and high-quality amplifiers) into a low-volume cabinet. As a result, most flat-panel TVs provide a below-average audio experience when compared to the video experience. The consumers desire for simplicity and simple solutions is driving the market for soundbars. The ability to “plug and play” rather than routing wires and speaker set up makes soundbars preferable to tradition HTiB systems.

The technologies that soundbars have adopted have expanded and the performance has also improved significantly. Today, soundbars have evolved and can offer features that rival that of home theater AV receivers, furthermore new features are emerging and being added.

Soundbars were quick to adopt wireless technologies, initially Bluetooth but increasingly Wi-Fi also. Smart speakers have opened up the voice assistance market and soundbars are likely to benefit from this.

Soundbar Ecosystem continues to develop

The soundbar market continues to offer significant opportunities for companies in the ecosystem including brands, ODMs, chip vendors and technology vendors.

Brands are adopting a range of new technologies to differentiate their soundbars from the competition. There are many companies that are enabling these new technologies:

  • IP providers such as Dolby and DTS offer a range of software codecs and audio post-processing solutions.
  • IC vendors such as ESS, Qualcomm, and TI provide various soundbar reference designs to help aid manufacturers.
  • Amazon and Google provide voice assistant solutions and have built an ecosystem of 3rd party vendors to help smart soundbar designs. These include Conexant and XMOS.

Soundbar vs. Smart Speaker

The soundbar market continues to see strong growth albeit with reduced rate as of 2016. Growth is driven by a need for additional audio solutions as TVs become ever flatter. Most recently growth has been affected by the introduction and rising popularity of smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Competition is expected to continue between soundbars and smart speakers in the living room but they will often coexist due to their distinct use cases.

Soundbar manufacturers are carefully looking into voice control. Currently, there are two implementation approaches (Built-in vs. Works with), it is in the early stages and it will be interesting to see which approach will win.

The soundbar and smart speaker are likely to coexist in living room for a while but as technologies evolve, it is expected that the soundbar will gradually overtake other smart speakers in this section of the home, becoming one of many smart speakers used throughout a household.

Immersive Sound

Soundbars continue to improve by adopting new features, immersive sound is one of the key features for the latest soundbars, Dolby ATMOS and DTS:X are the leading technologies.

The key element for immersive sound is adding a discrete height channel. Both Dolby and DTS offer virtual height channels, namely, Virtual Dolby ATMOS and DTS Virtual:X. Using a virtual height channel simplifies the soundbar design.

The price of immersive sound supported soundbars are already down to $500 range (3.1, or 2.1 models) at retail and this type of soundbar will quickly become mainstream. It’s also noteworthy that many of the immersive sound enabled soundbars also come with voice control.

Future Growth

Since its inception in early 2010 as a notable home entertainment device, the soundbar market has grown significantly. The technologies that soundbars have adopted has expanded and soundbar performance has also improved significantly.

Now, the soundbar market is entering a mature stage, the growth rate is decreasing and soundbars can possibly face new challenges. Vendors across the whole ecosystem will need to work together to make the soundbar form factor continue to be viable, further growth will be dependent on the adoption of new technologies that advance the use cases and further improve performance.

SAR Insight & Consulting’s latest comprehensive study on the soundbar market is now available here.

Contact the author:

SeongCheol Jang

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dj@sarinsight.com