Review Statement: VIZIO provided this soundbar for free in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own though.
If you’ve ever experienced a video game or a film in a Dolby Atmos equipped theater or game room, then you know how much that audio technology can enhance the overall experience. Having the ability to hear spatial audio objects flying over your head from front-to-back and left-to-right provides an amazing auditory adventure, which immerses you in whatever form of entertainment you’re engaging in unlike ever before. Unfortunately, Dolby Atmos enabled setups can get very costly, especially if you build a traditional home theater setup with a receiver, a subwoofer, and a mix of front and satellite speakers. Not to mention that you also need Dolby Atmos enabled hardware, such as a streaming device or console, to even use your high-end home theater system.
You could easily break the bank trying to build an Atmos system piece-by-piece, but thanks to Vizio’s new line of Atmos-enabled sound bars, the financial burden isn’t nearly as great. This opens the awesome technology up to those on tighter budgets, and spreads joy by allowing anyone that works for a living a chance to experience the best possible home theater audio experience without going into severe debt.
Vizio sent use a review unit of the upcoming 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos wireless home theater sound bar, which is model SB36512-F6, and just like my experience with Vizio’s 2017 5.1 wireless home theater system, I was rather blown away by what this system can do for an affordable price of $499.99. Once again, Vizio has shown that it’s a brand that can be trusted to provide supreme value for some of today’s newest multimedia technologies in the home theater space.
Just like last year’s Dolby Atmos-less sound bar, this new model can be setup by anyone who has the ability to open a box and look at pictures. It features a plug-and-play design that is nearly impossible to screw up during the setup process. For anyone who has configured a traditional home theater with Dolby Atmos, you know the setup process can be a big pain, but that’s not even remotely the case with Vizio’s Atmos-enabled sound bar. It honestly takes longer to get out of its oddly shaped form-factor box than to get installed into your home theater setup.
For the best possible audio experience you’ll want to plug the sound bar’s HDMI ARC out port to your TV’s HDMI ARC port, which will allow the TV and its HDMI connected devices to pass video to your TV and audio signals to the sound bar. This setup should also allow most Atmos-enabled devices that are connected to your TV’s HDMI inputs, or the sound bar’s lone HDMI input, to pass the Atmos signal if the video game, movie, or TV show supports it. This model sound bar also supports an optical audio port for older TVs and devices that don’t support ARC, as well as RCA, 3.5mm, and USB connections. It should be noted that that Dolby Atmos will only play if your devices support it, and the sound bar is configured with the HDMI ARC port setup. Atmos will not play through any other connection type. For the best possible Dolby Atmost experience though, the device should be connected to the sound bar’s HDMI input, because then the sound bar will pass through the 4K HDR signal to the TV and will decode the Dolby Atmos signal in the sound bar itself. This setup allows the device to use a lossless Dolby TrueHD codec to send the Dolby Atmos signal to the sound bar. It should be noted that HDMI ARC only supports Dolby Atmos through the Dolby Digital Plus codec, so apps and streaming boxes should mostly be fine being plugged directly into your TV’s HDMI ports.
Once the main bar is all plugged into your TV, setting up the two wireless rear speakers and subwoofer is as simple as plugging the subwoofer into a power outlet, and connecting the two other speakers to it. Once turned on it automatically pairs with the main sound bar, so like I said, in the matter of 15-20 minutes, you can have a fully functioning 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos home theater setup ready for use. I love the wireless aspect of these speakers, because the biggest issue in a traditional home theater setup is running cables all over your entertainment room, which can be a huge pain, or costly if you have to hire an electrician. With this unit, you just need to settle on where you want the rear speakers and sub, and then place them there, with only the need of tucking away the satellite speaker wire.
After getting the hardware all connected up and placed, you can begin to setup the bar with Vizio’s SmartCast app, which will allow you to cast audio to it from Chrome-cast enabled devices, use it with the Google Assistant and in Google Home speaker groups, as well as to control the unit from your smartphone without its remote. I absolutely love this feature and highly recommend anyone with SmartCast or Google Assistant enabled speakers, to setup a speaker group in Google Home, which in turn will allow you to cast audio from apps like Spotify to every speaker in your home that is in the speaker group.
Again, I can’t stress how easy it is to set this sound bar up, and to make things even easier and convenient, Vizio includes every single type of cable you would need for the sound bar, as well as mounting brackets for the sound bar and the two satellite speakers. It truly is an impressive package to get you setup quickly and enjoying some Atmos enhanced audio throughout your entertainment room.
Thanks to the inclusion of SmartCast, Chrome-cast support, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, the SB36512-F6 is extremely functional in its uses. I’ve already discussed what you can do with Google Home speaker groups, but you can also control it with your voice thanks to its Google Assistant support, so you can cast songs right to it by speaking the name and which device to listen on.
With the inclusion of an HDMI input, which supports 4K content, HDR, and both Dolby Vision and HDR10, it gives you a 4K ready HDMI port to use right on the sound bar. In my setup I ran my Xbox One S into the sound bar’s HDMI in, and it passed all 4K video checks for the console, as well as Atmos output, so the sound bar can handle modern 4K, HDR ready video devices quite well.
The HDMI ARC feature worked well for most of the devices I had hooked into my 4K Vizio display, but I did run into some issues with my Roku Ultra. For some reason it would randomly drop the CEC connection with the TV, which in turn would kill the audio coming out of the sound bar. After much testing I’m pretty positive it was the Roku failing and not the sound bar, because other ARC-CEC connections worked just fine, but even with them I had to sometimes switch between inputs to get audio back after using the sound bar’s HDMI-In port with the Xbox One S. This quite frankly could be a display issue as well, but I don’t think it was a result of the sound bar failing. I did try it on another display and all seemed well, so I do think my random ARC-CEC drops were a result of the Roku and the display I used.
In term of controlling the sound bar, you have four options, which is a nice touch. It features physical buttons on the bar for power, input switching, volume controls, and Bluetooth. If you don’t want to get up, you can use the included LCD remote, which is very functional and allows you to change everything from surround sound levels to built-in equalizer profiles. If you don’t want another remote lying around you can use the SmartCast app on your phone, or you can set it up to work with your existing TV remote.
Sound and Video Quality
Yes, I want to touch on video quality for a sound bar. I know it may not make sense, but since the device has an HDMI-in port that supports 4K and HDR technology, I thought I should briefly mention it. I touched on it earlier when discussing how I hooked my Xbox One S into this port, and to my surprise it passed all of the Xbox’s video tests to allow it to fully display 4K and HDR content. The resulting picture on my display didn’t suffer any degradation as a result of passing the Xbox’s signal through the sound bar and then into the TV. You definitely shouldn’t worry about needing to use the sound bar’s HDMI-in port for any of your 4K enabled video devices.
Now on to what really matters with a Dolby Atmos enabled 5.1.2 sound bar — its sound quality. If you’re unfamiliar with Dolby Atmos speakers, they’re built to fire their audio signals up at the ceiling, with the idea being that these signals will in turn reflect off of it and into your ears from above your head. This in turn creates the feeling that you’re hearing sounds buzzing over your head from side to side as if you were being fully surrounded by the audio from all directions. Let’s just say it offers up a 3D audio experience, and I can tell you that Atmos enabled films and video games will leave your head and ear’s rejoicing over the immersive auditory barrage.
In this sound bar model the two Atmos speakers are placed on top of the bar itself, so the one tricky thing you have to figure out when setting it up is the best position to place it in relation to your main seat. You need to place the bar so it can fire the top speakers at your ceiling with an angle that will reflect them back down towards your head. If you’re in a large room with very high ceilings you won’t get the most out of this sound bar and its Atmos speakers, but you could say that about any top firing Atmos speaker, so its not a knock on Vizio’s SB36512-F6 sound bar model.
My review unit was setup in a fairly large family room, but I still found it highly capable of filling the entire room with premium sounding audio be it Atmos, or just standard Dolby/DTS signals. This thing can get very loud and booming sounding, and with the surround sound the room ended up sounding like a mini-movie theater. When you consider the diminutive size of this sound bar it’s even more impressive sounding, because it nearly rivals my $1000 plus Atmos home theater setup in terms of quality.
The sound bar really shines though when you are watching or playing Atmos enabled content. Using the Xbox One S I watched bits of Avengers: Infinity War through Vudu to test Atmos with a movie, and I was more than pleased. I watched the early battle in New York and I could feel the sound pouring over my body, but more importantly, I could also hear the action taking place above my head, which provided a feeling of being in the battle with Iron Man, Strange, Spidey, and Bruce Banner. I also fired up Gears of War 5, which is Atmos enabled, and it too knocked my socks off in terms of the 3D audio experience.
Inputs And Tech Specs
- Analog Audio Input – 3.5mm stereo mini jack
- Digital Audio Input – Optical (Toslink)
- Digital Audio Input – RCA (Coaxial/SPDIF)
- USB Input – USB (for .WAV Audio Playback)
- HDMI Input – Yes
- Bluetooth® Input – BLE 4.0
- Wi-Fi Input – 802.11ac
- Ethernet Input – Yes
- HDMI ARC – Yes
- IR Receiver – Up to 30 feet
Vizio has once again proven to me that it can deliver high-end digital entertainment technology without high-end prices. I was skeptical that a sound bar could produce a competent 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos setup, but that skepticism faded as soon as I fired the SB36512-F6 up. It’s beyond simple to setup. It hardly takes up any space, and for its price ($499.99) and size the audio it can put out is truly impressive. If you’re on a budget, or don’t have a ton of space to install eight individual speakers to create a Dolby Atmos setup, then you should invest in this unit. You will not be disappointed. In fact, you’ll have your mind blow that a sound bar of this size and price can produce the high-quality audio experience that it does.
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