TCL’s first Dolby Atmos soundbar made waves at the IFA technology conference in Berlin last fall for delivering impressively immersive audio without the need for upfiring drivers, and now comes word that the new soundbar is almost ready to ship.
The newly dubbed TCL Alto 9+ soundbar is slated for release “early” this year, TCL reps said during a demo at CES in Las Vegas, with the retail price likely to hover in the $400 range.
The 3.1-channel soundbar sets itself apart thanks to TCL’s Raz-Danz technology, which employs side-firing drivers and a pair of acoustic reflectors to bounce sound around the room.
The sound-spreading acoustic reflectors allow for a much wider sweet spot when it comes to immersive Dolby Atmos soundtracks, TCL says, while also boosting the overall power of the audio by using “old-fashioned” acoustics to deliver such a wide soundstage, rather than audio processing.
Virtual height effects on the Alto 9+ are achieved with help from Dolby’s height virtualization technology, while low-frequency effects come courtesy of a wireless subwoofer
I was able to listen to a demo of the Alto 9+ in a Las Vegas hotel suite, and the sound was indeed impressive. Standing to the far left of the room, a far from ideal listening position when it comes to a home theater, I could nonetheless hear flapping wings whoosh around the room and plopping raindrops overhead during the Dolby Atmos “Amaze” trailer, as well as fluttering seed pod from Dolby’s more subtle “Leaf” trailer.
While TCL reps admit that upfiring soundbar drivers deliver “slightly better” performance for a listener who’s sitting precisely in the soundbar’s center sweet spot, they argue that the Alto 9+’s virtualized, acoustically reflected audio will sound better for those sitting in other areas of the room.
It’s worth noting that while the Alto 9+ supports Dolby Atmos, it does not support DTS:X or DTS Virtual:X, nor will it support eARC, an enhanced version of ARC (Audio Return Channel) that allows for lossless audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD or (moot as far as the Alto 9+ is concerned) DTS-HD Master Audio.
Besides its enticing Ray-Danz audio technology, the TCL Alto 9+ also marks the first “Roku TV Ready” soundbar.
A new program that Roku is announcing at CES, Roku TV Ready means that a certified soundbar or A/V receiver will be fully controllable via on-screen menus on a Roku TV or using a Roku TV remote.
A Roku rep demonstrated how the Alto 9+’s sound modes, bass and treble settings, and more could be controlled directly from the menus of a connected Roku TV.
Roku TV Ready soundbars and A/V receivers will work with all Roku TVs following a firmware update this spring.
Besides TCL, Sound United-owned Denon will also be coming out with a Roku TV Ready soundbar later this year. A Denon A/V receiver with Roku TV Ready certification is also on the way, although no release date has been set.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.