Vizio SB36512-F6: Finally, a Dolby Atmos sound bar worth buying

The up-and-coming Dolby Atmos surround format represents the latest in home theater audio, but recent sound bars with Atmos have not been very good values. The cheapest last year was the LG SK10Y at $800, but it was just a middling performer. 

If you’ve been wanting the sweet, object-based surround effects of Atmos but you’re unwilling to install (or pay for) an AV receiver and a roomful of speakers, Vizio SB36512-F6 ($400 at Amazon) will be music to your ears. The SB36512 is not only the first Atmos sound bar we’ve seen to hit the $500 mark, but it’s also good. Really good.

You’re going to see a lot of sound bars at this price, but almost none include actual rear speakers. The Vizio does, and they make all the difference for immersive surround sound. Not only does the SB36512-F6 serve up great sound for the money, it also has all of the connectivity you’ll need. Only a lack of DTS:X decoding and so-so sound with music, as opposed to home theater, could give the enthusiast pause. 

The look, the gear

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio hasn’t changed the look of its sound bars in a few years, to the extent that one of the company’s $130 models looks much the same as the $500-or-so one. The SB36512-F6 is fairly understated with its black cloth wrap and silver-colored ends.

At the top of the bar is a pair of upward-firing height speakers designed to beam Atmos effects off your ceiling and down into the room. There’s a limited number of controls at the top, and the 36-inch wide bar is wall-mountable at the rear.

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Sarah Tew

The main weakness of the SB36512’s design is the same as any other Vizio of recent years; the super-basic “display” on the unit. It’s just a stack of LED dots, which may offer a useful gauge of the volume level but utterly fails when representing which input is currently active.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The wireless subwoofer is a black-and-silver shoebox with a ported 6-inch woofer. This unit helps the entire system get down to a claimed 40Hz.

The Vizio features five different types of physical connectivity: HDMI in/out (with ARC), coaxial, optical, USB (for .WAV playback, strangely) and a 3.5mm analog input jack. Wireless connections include Wi-Fi with Chromecast built in and Bluetooth. 

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