Review: Philips HTS 5131S Soundbar

When it comes to home theater systems a lot of people believe that more is more. More speakers, more wires, more buttons to play around with. In a typical home however these kind of home theatre systems just look ugly. While they may be designed to sound good, they really aren’t designed to look good. It’s just a lot of boxes all around the room. For a decent sound experience and a great visual appearance, I prefer the SoundBar. This is an often ignored category when people are considering buying a home theater system. Most brands don’t even have one for sale in India. And even if you can see the system on the website of the brand there is a good chance that you will not find it in stores. They don’t sell much and therefore aren’t stocked much.

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Philips has been selling SoundBars in India for a long time. These have always been listed on their website but the availability remains sketchy. When I was looking, Philips had 4 models on their site varying from Rs. 25000 to Rs. 80000 in price. I was finally able to find a store that could get one for me and bought the HTS 5131S. This had a MRP listed of Rs. 35000 and I was able to get it for Rs. 24000. In Mumbai, where I am, even the Philips brand stores didn’t stock these and were stating a procurement time of 2 to 3 weeks after payment. So I told them to screw themselves and finally found a smaller retailer in the heart of Mumbai who was able to get me the model I wanted.

Form Factor

The reason that I chose this model is because it fit perfectly in my budget and also the fact that it had a BluRay player. The system is fairly compact, but a little tall due to the fact that it needs to fit in a BluRay player. The woofer, which is a separate unit, was a lot bigger than I could make out from the photos given on the website. It terms of the size, the length of the unit is about the same as that of a 32″ TV and therefore a little smaller than my 42″ TV. It looks really nice and appears as if it is just an extension of the TV rather than boxes connected with wires. The unit can be kept on a flat surface under the TV or can be mounted on the wall or onto a TV mount if it has that facility. I use a Tono Systems Plasma TV mount which has an extra attachment for SoundBars as well. This means that when you move the TV around the SoundBar also moves around with it. However, I have mounted the SoundBar on the wall under the TV.

Controls

The controls on the unit itself are fairly limited. The buttons are available as capacitive touch buttons on the face of the main disk area. The only controls available there are play, pause, volume and source selection. All the other controls are on the remote. The front panel pops out from one side if you push it in to reveal the disk loading slot.

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The remote is fairly standard and pretty comfortable to hold. Due to the lack of controls on the main unit, you would be very lost if the remote got spoiled.

Format Support

Video and audio format support is very good in this model.  I have not yet been able to get it to fail at playing the usual suspects. I don’t generally run into the lesser known formats so I haven’t had any issues there. This snapshot from the user guide will give you a good idea of format support.

 

I/O Ports

This system provides a number of connection options but there is a lot of room for improvement. All the ports are at the rear of the unit inset into little cubbyholes. They are equally spread to the left and right of the back and there are also a couple of ports on one side of the main unit.

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The left side has the following ports:

  1. The FM Antenna – This is provided with the unit
  2. Analog Audio (L & R) – Your usual Red and White connectors for audio
  3. iPod dock – This is to connect to another Philips product which is a dock for the iPod / iPhone
  4. Digital-In Coaxial – Coaxial audio
  5. Digital-In Optical – Optical audio
  6. Subwoofer – This is to connect the included Subwoofer
Pretty decent so far right? Well this was the good part. Now to the not so good.

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The right side has the following ports:

  1. The LAN port – to connect to the internet and use the built in Picasa, Youtube apps.
  2. HDMI Out with Audio Return Channel (ARC) – The ARC allows you to pipe back the TV audio the home theater. Unfortunately the HDMI on my TV doesn’t support this, so I have to use the Analog Audio connections.
  3. Video Out – In case you don’t have a TV with HDMI.
  4. The power connector.

So you see the problem right? There is only one HDMI port and that too only Output.

There are a few additional connectors present:

  1. An USB slot for a Philips wifi dongle in case you don’t have wired internet available.
  2. An USB 2.0 slot for a USB storage device
  3. Music iLink port which seems to be an Auxiliary port to connect any other audio device or mp3 player.

Internet Services

The 5131 provides a couple of Internet apps (so to speak) that you can access if you are connected to the internet. YouTube and Picasa Web Albums are accessible from the home theater directly. The YouTube app is nice and features the YouTube Lean Back interface which is nice but very frustrating to control with the remote control. The whole thing is a little slow as well and I don’t use it much. I haven’t tried the Picasa app yet, but I am thinking it won’t really be anything to write home about.

Since this is a BluRay player as well, it has something called BDLive which is basically used to get interactive content from the internet when you are watching a BluRay disk and there is some BDLive content available for that disk. Another interesting thing is that you can update the device software directly from Philips server when they are available. In case you don’t have internet, you can install the update from a USB storage device after downloading it from the support website.

Conclusion

This home theater system is a pretty good deal and provides a good looking device without the clutter involved. However, there are a few nagging omissions that don’t give it very high marks. The lack of I/O ports is one, and the other more important one is the quality of sound. This is my second Philips home theater system and I can tell you that if I was an audiophile, I would never buy a Philips system. Fortunately for me and Philips, I only have average expectations from a Philips system and that is why I am satisfied with what this system delivers.

The volume levels are not very good and the definition between frequencies is lacking. The subwoofer is pretty good though and does provide a satisfying bass experience.

All in all, a pretty capable “Home” theater system, but don’t expect it to rock your world.

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