While super-thin flat-screen TVs look seriously cool, they often produce wispy, weedy sound. There are several ways to address this problem, from partnering the telly with a full-blown home-cinema system to buying one of many different types of supplemental TV speakers. One increasingly popular solution is to add a soundbar, a long speaker that usually sits directly beneath the screen.
The Sharp HT-SL50H is one such soundbar, and it will set you back around £150.
With its latest offering, Sharp has taken a novel approach to combat lacklustre TV sound. It's produced a soundbar that's every bit as slim and insubstantial as the super-thin speakers used by flat-screen TVs. Bizarrely, this audacious approach works rather well.
The HT-SL50H is sized to partner screens measuring between 32 and 40 inches. The soundbar itself is 801mm wide but only 26mm tall and 50mm deep. Beneath its moulded plastic grille are six drivers, divided to produce a stereo effect.
The soundbar connects to a fairly chunky subwoofer. The sub is actually the heart of the system, supplying all the requisite signal routing and digital amplification. The sub uses two 3D-compliant HDMI ports -- one in and one out. It offers no other type of connection, aside from a stereo mini-jack.
It's worth stressing that this isn't really a sound system for those with legacy 2D plasma and LCD TVs. While you can connect the HT-SL50H to a TV via the headphone or phono outputs -- typically found on the back of the TV -- the system has been conceived from the outset to take advantage of HDMI 1.4's Audio Return Channel (ARC).
Indeed, if you don't have a TV with ARC, it's really not worth investing in this system. The secondary connection options are inelegant and we struggled to get the system to function properly. One configuration we tried used source components routed through an HDMI switcher, but all video was lost en route.
The good news is that the ARC connection works right out of the box. Essentially you need only run an HDMI cable from the input on your TV marked 'ARC' to the HDMI input on the back of the sub. A secondary HDMI cable runs back from the output of the sub to another input on the TV. Once this has been done, the subwoofer's power-indicating LED switches from red to blue, and the sound system becomes active.
The system automatically powers up, and powers down when not in use. You'll probably soon forget it's there.
The HT-SL50H isn't a faux surround-sound system, in the vein of Yamaha's YSP-2200. It's a straightforward, 2.1-channel, stereo set-up. That said, the unit's stereo soundstage is rewardingly wide. During a screening of Pixar's Cars, the directional steering sound that accompanies Lightning McQueen's track exploits licked from one side of the room to another -- and there was just a slight hint of surround sound through reflected audio.
The sub itself does a good job of blending mid-range audio with treble, without becoming boomy. We suggest you try and position it close to the soundbar for the best integration.
Sharp claims a 100W output -- 50W from the sub and 50W from the soundbar -- which seems somewhat a tad generous, but there's no denying that the system is potent. The HT-SL50H will be more than loud enough for the average living room, easily eclipsing the standard output of a 2011 flat-screen telly.
While most users will probably sit the soundbar beneath their TV using the transparent cushions supplied, it can also be mounted on a wall. Supplied in the box are simple, adjustable, horizontal fixings that shouldn't put too much strain on the average plasterboard wall.
The Sharp HT-SL50H confounds expectations. Despite its slight build, it offers a substantial upgrade over the paper-thin speakers in current-generation super-thin TVs, for a pretty reasonable price. Its sound is crisp, yet has clout. While not a replacement for a genuine home-cinema system, it's definitely a worthwhile investment if your 3D TV sounds weedy.
Edited by Charles Kloet