Sonos enters home theater market with wireless soundbar

They say the best way to stay ahead of the competition is to zig when they zag. While NuVo Technologies and Pure expand into the consumer multi-room audio market that Sonos now dominates, Sonos is readying an assault on the home-theater audio market with the new Playbar, a wireless speaker bar designed to be deployed at the base of flat-screen HDTV.

The Sonos Playbar has nine speakers, each driven by a discrete amplifier.

The Playbar, which will be available March 5 for $699, looks like a typical self-amplified home-theater soundbar. It’s a single-cabinet speaker system housing nine drivers (six mid-woofers and three tweeters), each of which is driven by a discrete amplifier. It connects to a TV’s digital-audio output (using an optical cable) and can play the audio from whatever source is sending audio to the TV. It’s capable of decoding a number of common audio streams, including Dolby Digital, but it can’t decode the high-definition audio streams used in Blu-ray discs (Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio).

Buyers will have the option of supplementing the Playbar’s bass performance by adding a $699 Sonos Sub subwoofer (to reproduce low-frequency effects), and they’ll be able to build out a complete 5.1-channel audio system by adding the Sub and a pair of Sonos’ Play:3 self-powered speakers ($299 each), for the surround channels.

I predict Sonos will have a difficult time convincing consumers to shell out nearly $2,000 for a complete surround-sound system—even if it is wireless—but the Playbar alone could be a hit if it sounds great. This isn’t the type of speaker that home-theater enthusiasts will buy—especially since it doesn’t support Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA—but I don’t think those are the buyers Sonos is focusing on. Single-cabinet home-theater speakers are very popular, and the Playbar is the only one that can also play music as part of a Sonos multi-room audio system.

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