Only standard Dolby decoding is handled by the VHT210. That's not terrible, especially since high-resolution soundtracks like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio wouldn't sound much better on a system like this, but we would have liked standard DTS support, at least, which is available on most competitors. The lack of DTS won't matter for most products, as its easy to set your external devices to decode to PCM.
The VHT210 can be wall- or shelf-mounted with the supplied bracket; we went with the second option. Unlike a lot of trendily thin sound bars that easily tip over, Vizio's angled, metal brackets provide a stable footing for shelf-mounting.
When we first turned on the VHT210, the wireless subwoofer didn't automatically link with the sound bar speaker, so we pressed the "link" button on the sub's rear panel, and a few seconds later we started getting bass out of the thing. The sub then continuously worked perfectly, without dropouts, noise, or other malfunctions. Vizio claims the sub will play at distances up to 60 feet from the sound bar, but we recommend placing the sub within a few feet. Much further away and you'll start to hear the sub as a separate sound source.
The VHT210 doesn't have a manual or automatic speaker setup/calibration program, and it doesn't need one. The two-channel sound bar's volume levels are fixed, but you can adjust the subwoofer volume, bass, and treble levels from the remote. Visual conformation of the adjustments is provided in the form of dimly lit LED indicators arrayed across the lower edge of the sound bar.
If this sound bar and subwoofer's unusually compact dimensions initially led us to underestimate what the VHT210 could do, we were pleasantly surprised by its full-bodied sound. Clearly, the VHT210 was ready to tackle a grizzly horror flick, the original "Saw."
Much of the action in that film takes place in one room, where two men are chained to opposite walls, and there's a dead body on the floor between them. A psychopathic man taunts the men in various ways. The room, which looks like an abandoned bathroom, is very reverberant, and there are water dripping sounds coming from all around. Listening first with the SRS TruSurround HD turned off, the sound was spacious; turning the SRS on (with one button on the remote) significantly improved the surround effect, so that it nearly filled the entire front wall of the CNET listening room. Nice, but SRS TruSurround HD wasn't powerful enough to create truly enveloping surround sound.
The film score's percussive accents and electronic effects packed a healthy wallop. Dialogue wasn't slighted by the VHT210, which didn't sound small--that's for sure. To finish up with "Saw," we demo-ed the SRS True Volume feature that minimizes abrupt volume level shifts in action movies. It worked well and didn't adversely affect the sound quality of the film.
We used the brutal battle scenes from the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray to compare the VHT210 with Samsung's HW-C450 sound bar/subwoofer system. The contest didn't take long, the fiery helicopter crash and street level gunfire exchanges between the American soldiers and enemy insurgents had greater impact and kicked harder over the Samsung. It also had a fuller and clearer sound. The VHT210's subwoofer wasn't bad for its size, but it was no match for the HW-C450's sub, which produced deeper bass with superior definition. The VHT210 will probably play loud enough for most buyers, including us, but when we played "Black Hawk Down" with the volume at maximum level it was just loud enough. If you really like to crank the volume the Vizio might fall short for you; the Samsung could play louder without strain.
To be fair, the Samsung bar and sub are significantly larger than the Vizio's, and the Samsung is a bit more expensive, so you get what you pay for. Our CNET listening room is fairly large; the VHT210's limitations would be less apparent in smaller rooms.
The VHT210 bettered the Samsung in one area: it was one of the best-sounding sound bar systems we've heard with CDs. Willie Nelson's new "Country Music" album came through with its acoustic tones fully intact, and Nelson's voice was in fine form. It's a recording that sounds gorgeous, and a total pleasure to listen to over the VHT210.
Rock music can be a tough challenge for sound bars, but the VHT210's competency with the CD of the Talking Heads' "Fear of Music" DualDisc was impressive at low-to-moderate volume levels. Within limits, the VHT210 can rock fairly hard, though not up to the standard you'd get from larger home theater in a box systems.
Judged as a budget-priced sound bar system, we'd rate the VHT210's home theater performance as just below average, but it's one of the better-sounding bars for two channel music.
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