Vizio's latest mid-range soundbar caters to bargain hunters who want immersive Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio without breaking the bank, and without the need for upfiring drivers that require flat ceilings at just the right height. Given that it uses virtualization instead of physical drivers to deliver height cues, it comes as no surprise that the 5.1-channel M51ax-J6 can't match the precision of pricier soundbars that do have upfiring drivers. You'll also have to do without Wi-Fi connectivity and audio casting support, although that's no big surprise given the M51ax-J6's price tag and feature set. Despite those shortcomings, the 5.1-channel M51ax-J6 offers plenty of value, including rich, punchy, and exciting sound, eARC support, and a dedicated audio jack for connecting a smart speaker, such as an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. This review is part of TechHive's coverage of the best soundbars.
Sony announced two entirely new high-end home theater products today: The four-speaker HT-A9 home theater system and a new flagship soundbar, the HT-7000A. The audio manufacturer also announced two wireless subwoofers that can add deeper bass to either product, and wireless rear speakers that can supplement the soundbar. The Sony HT-A9 home theater system ($1,800) consists of a control box with a LAN port and HDMI in and out, along with four cylindrical, wireless, self-powered speakers. Each speaker has two built-in microphones that measure the speaker's relative height and position in the room. Sony's 360 Spatial Sound and Sound Field Optimization technology then creates up to 12 phantom speakers by synthesizing sound waves based on positional information.
It didn't take long to confirm what I suspected during my Vizio V5-Series review--the slightly more expensive M-Series Quantum offers a far better picture. It's not perfect perfect by any means, but the color is more accurate, and the screen uniformity far outstrips that of the V-Series. If you're shopping mid-range Vizio, the M-Series Quantum is what you want. Skip a couple of lunches to save up the extra cash. The M-Series, including the 55-inch class model M55Q6 that I tested, are 60Hz, 3840 x 2160 (4K UHD), 10-bit TVs.
As with all its smart TVs, Vizio's V-series brings the SmartCast interface to the table. It's best in show when it comes to effectively melding entertainment content from disparate sources (over-the-air, streaming, etc.). It also synergizes nicely with the company's minimalist remote, which now supports voice commands. The V5-series specifically is also relatively affordable. The 55-inch-class, model V555-J evaluated here retails for just $500.
What Vizio's mid-range M512a-H6 lacks in Wi-Fi connectivity, it makes up for in big, exciting, room-filling sound. Slated to ship in July for a list price of $450, this 5.1.2-channel M-series soundbar from Vizio is easy to set up, offers plenty of discrete audio adjustments, and delivers immersive Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound courtesy of upfiring drivers. Now, a sub-$500 soundbar like the M512a-H6 (which Vizio calls an "M-series" soundbar, sitting between its high-end P-series and budget-priced V-series models) will necessarily mean settling for some compromises--in this case, no Wi-Fi support, which means you'll have to do without AirPlay 2 and Chromecast functionality, as well as support for native audio streaming. The good news is that you can add a voice assistant by connecting a smart speaker via a 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth, a nifty feature that's new to Vizio's 2021 soundbars.
Apple sold 2.4 million smart speakers in the U.S. market during first quarter of 2021, according to the market research firm Omdia, beating Google's sales by 100,000 units during the same period. The firm estimates the new Apple HomePod mini accounted for 91 percent of Apple's U.S. smart speaker sales during that time. Apple's share of smart speaker shipments in the U.S. market reached 17.8 percent during the first quarter, a 9 percent increase year over year. But Omdia estimates there were 75 million smart speakers based on Google Assistant on the market at the end of 2020, compared to just 10 million based on Apple's Siri. And Amazon dominates both of those competitors, with a current installed base of 141 million smart speakers using its Alexa voice assistant.
Apple has announced a second-generation Apple TV 4K with a new and unambigously designed Siri remote--at last, there's no more holding the remote the wrong way! The new streamer is powered by Apple's A12 Bionic processor, which will enable high frame rate HDR (high dynamic range at 60 frames per second) on streaming services that offer it. The new Siri remote, and an intriguing color-balance feature that is part of tvOS 14.5, will also be available on the first-gen Apple TV 4K as well as the Apple TV HD. One thing that hasn't changed about the new Apple TV 4K is the price: Yes, it's still a whopping $199 for the 64GB model and $179 for the 32GB version, with the updated models slated to ship in May following an April 30 pre-order date. The new Siri remote costs $59, or it can be purchased with an Apple TV HD for $149--that's about $50 higher than the most expensive 4K players from Amazon, Roku, and other competitors.
Cortana is continuing its slow fade with word that the Harman Kardon Invoke, the final smart speaker powered by Microsoft's once-promising voice assistant, will disable it with an impending update. Slated for release on Wednesday, the previously announced update will essentially turn the Invoke into a "dumb" Bluetooth speaker, Paul Thurrott reports. An FAQ on Karman Kardon's support site says the update will install itself silently in the background over Wi-Fi. Once the update is applied, the speaker will no longer respond to "Hey Cortana," nor will it connect to Wi-Fi anymore. Microsoft says it will give anyone with an "active" Invoke a $50 gift card in compensation for the lost functionality.
Vizio's V-series smart TV (the $300, 50-inch model V505-H19 is reviewed here) is the second 50-inch TV I've evaluated recently, the other being the slightly cheaper ($280) Konka U50. Both are infinitely superior to anything you could've found in this price range five years ago. That said, the Vizio provides a bit better processing, backlighting, overall image and experience. But it lacks the Konka's handy Bluetooth connectivity. The V505-H19 is a thin-bezel unit whose staid, but classy appearance belies its low price.
Google has announced that it's no longer making its music-focused Home Max smart speaker, which is--or was--the best-sounding smart speaker on the market. In a statement provided to TechHive, Google says that the $299 Home Max will continue to work normally, and that it will still offer software and security patches for the device. The statement also points smart speaker shoppers toward the Nest Audio, a new music-focused speaker with a smaller design and a more palatable $99 price tag. We've sold out of Google Home Max and will no longer be manufacturing the device. With the launch of Nest Audio, we're offering a range of great home audio solutions, particularly with two Nest Audios paired for stereo sound.