Flat-screen TVs may be capable of delivering superb picture quality, but even the best of them usually struggle to produce really good sound. The Sharp HTSB200 aims to solve that problem. Available for around £110, it's a 2.1-channel surround-sound speaker bar that gives your TV an audio-quality boost.
Slim like a snake
Since the move to flat-screen tellies, one of the biggest complaints people have is not about picture quality but about poor sound. The slimline speakers used in today's plasma and LCD TVs often aren't up to the standard of the larger speakers that were used in old CRT tellies. The best option is to twin your set with a surround-sound speaker package, but not everyone has the space for this kind of set-up. This is where the HTSB200 comes in.
The HTSB200 is a long, slim unit that's designed to sit underneath your TV. It can either be left to rest on the supplied spikes in front of your set on a normal TV stand, or you can use the bracket included in the box to mount it on your wall. The soundbar is 80cm long, so it looks neatest when paired with TVs of between 32 and 42 inches in size. Sharp has finished the HTSB200 with an all-black, glossy coating, so it should have no problem blending in well with most tellies.
Setting up the speaker is a piece of cake, as there are only two inputs on the rear. The first comprises a pair of phono sockets that you connect to the audio output sockets on the rear of your TV, while the second is a standard mini-jack input that can be used to hook up a CD or MP3 player.
The HTSB200 houses a pair of stereo speakers, four small subwoofers and a built-in amp. Although it has on-board virtual-surround-sound processing, it doesn't have a full Dolby Digital or DTS decoder, unlike models such as the Philips SoundBar HTS8100. Instead, the surround-sound processing on offer is SRS WOW HD. This simply takes the stereo feed from your TV and expands it slightly to make the sound stage seem wider. It's a pleasing-enough effect, but a long way from the bullets-whizzing-past-your-ears audio of a real surround-sound set-up.
You can choose from four presets tailored to different types of programming -- 'standard', 'cinema/game', 'sport' and 'news' -- but the system gives you no other control over the surround-sound modes. You can adjust the bass, treble and subwoofer levels via either the buttons on the front of the unit next to the two-character LED display, or the small, credit-card-size remote.
Mixed audio performance
The most important issue on a system like this is sound quality. The HTSB200 puts in something of a mixed performance. That's perhaps unsurprising given its modest price tag. At low to medium volumes, it works well, adding a pretty hefty amount of bass that falls somewhere between that offered by a standard TV's speaker and a proper 5.1-channel system. At these volume levels, it also has good presence in the mid and high frequencies. It's certainly a major step-up from the audio you get from most TVs, adding an extra level of punch to action movies and even music shows.
Unfortunately, as you push the HTSB200 louder, the audio quality starts to fall apart. The more you increase the volume the more treble it introduces. The result is that, at high volumes, the HTSB200 sounds very brittle and is quite hard to listen to, unless you reach for the treble control and turn it down significantly. But, with the treble turned down, it tends to sound rather muddy, leading to indistinct dialogue.
The Sharp HTSB200 is a decent performer, as long as you don't use it at high volume levels. If you like to listen to action movies at a loud volume or simply have a large room to fill with sound, you'd be better off looking at some of the more expensive soundbars currently on the market.
Edited by Charles Kloet