A Sound Idea

Futuresource Consulting has just released a free analysis report that highlights their observations about consumer electronics products and trends at CES 2012. One of the points that they made in their announcement press release caught my attention:

Ever-thinner TV displays boosted interest in speakers, soundbars and home theatre systems.

I confess that I’ve been a bit puzzled over the fascination with thin when it comes to HDTVs. I understand that it’s cool, and that it generally results in a set that weighs less, but those don’t strike me as compelling features. When you think about it, the thickness of the display is one of the few features that you can’t discern when you’re actually using the product. From straight on, a 4 mm-thick OLED display looks the same depth as a “bulky” rear-projection display.

Now the Futuresource report points out another drawback for thin TVs. I grant that the sound system quality for most flat panels rivals that of the dashboard speaker in my 64 Mustang, but making the drivers ever thinner can’t help matters any. I remember Pioneer engineers showing me all sorts of clever designs they had to get better sound out of a flat panel HDTV, but is it really worth the effort? In many cases, a $25 desktop computer speaker set with a subwoofer will outperform the sound quality of the flat panel. If I thought it would save them some money, I’d recommend that manufacturers just drop the charade and sell their thinnest TVs without speakers at all. (Howver, I suspect that they’re not spending enough on the sound components to make much difference.)

So while you’re dreaming of a razor thin HDTV for your living room, remember to budget a little for a separate sound system; there are some bargains in compact home theater surround sound packages. You don’t listen to the movie soundtrack through an AM radio at the local cinema, and you should not have to do the same at home, either.