Sonos Playbar Home Cinema

We've expanded our Smart Home Entertainment system with another Sonos speaker - the Playbar.  Here, I explore some of the major differences between the Playbar and the Play 1 (besides the obvious), and outline the features you might be interested in for your own setup.

Following on from the installation of our first Smart Home entertainment product, the Sonos Play 1, we started to think about how to expand on this.  The ageing amp and speaker setup in our living room became an obvious candidate for replacement.  It was developing issues and would need to be replaced soon anyway.

With Sonos supporting TV-sound / Home Cinema through their Playbar and Playbase products, we decided this would be a logical route to take.  The Playbar has been on the market for several years, and is a tried and tested solution for people looking for a Sound bar they can put on a TV stand, or mount on the wall.  The Playbase is a newer product intended to go under your TV (ie, your TV sites on top).

We plan to get a new TV in the future, and mount it on the wall.  We decided therefore to opt for the Playbar, as we can then mount that on the wall too.  For now though, it's going to be sitting alongside our TV, on a TV Stand.

The Playbar has been on the market for many years as mentioned above.  That Sonos haven't felt the need so far to replace it is perhaps a testament to how good it generally seems to be.  Most reviews speak highly of it, with only two criticisms.  First, it's very expensive (£649/$699), and secondly, it does not support DTS.

Sonos only supports Dolby Digital for surround sound on the Playbar.  Sonos explain this by stating that DTS is typically only found on physical media, whereas their products are aimed more at users looking to take advantage of streaming services like Netflix, where DTS isn't used.  I'm no audiophile, so I won't wade in on this issue, but if DTS is a hard requirement for you - you may want to look elsewhere.

In every other respect the Sonos Playbar works very similarly to every other Sonos speaker.  We joined it to our existing setup with ease inside the app, and were able to start playing music through all our configured services right away..  Physically, it's obviously a different form factor, but also has a couple of differences to the Play 1 in terms of the connectors it sports.  First, there are two Ethernet ports instead of one. Second, there's an optical connector for linking it to your TV.

Our TV, being quite old, doesn't have an optical connector.  However, having recently moved, we made the decision not to continue with our cable TV service.  We don't have a separate Blu-Ray player. Instead - we get pretty much everything we need via an Xbox One.  This does have an optical port.  So, setup was easy, plug in the power, hook up the optical cable, and begin discovering the speaker in the Sonos app.  Also very easy.

If you choose to do what we're doing and link your Playbar to an Xbox One, be sure to configure the settings on your Xbox right;

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Display and Audio
  3. Head into the audio settings
  4. Disable HDMI audio.
  5. Set the optical audio format to 'Bitstream'
  6. Set the Bitstream format to Dolby Digital.

With our system hooked up in this way, everything works great.  When you start playing something on the Xbox, the Playbar automatically switches to playing that audio.  You can switch manually too. Also, if you want to disable auto-switching, you can do so in the settings.

There are a few extra features you get with the Playbar specific to watching TV and movies.

First, there's a 'Dialog' mode you can turn on.  This enhances the clarity of spoken language in the TV shows and movies you're watching.  So, if you feel the dialog is being drowned out by background sounds and music, this feature can help.

There's a 'Night mode'.  This is essentially a volume levelling feature.  It enhances quiet sounds, and supresses loud ones.  So if you're watching at night, and don't want to disturb other people in your house, or upset your neighbours -this might be a feature to try..

You can also add audio delay if the sound doesn't seem to quite sync up correctly with the video.  Plus you of course have the same features as in other Sonos speakers, including Bass & Treble adjustment, 'Loudness' mode, and TruePlay (more on that last feature in a future post).

The Playbar is currently installed for us in a standalone configuration.  However, you can wirelessly pair it up with a Sonos Sub for deeper bass.  Sonops say that if you do this, the Playbar will automatically adjust to stop pumping out the bass itself, and focus on other aspects of the sound for greater quality.

You can also wirelessly link a pair of Play 1, Play 3 or even Play 5 devices to act as the rear speakers.  Again, the system adjusts the sound output accordingly.  Which models you use will depend on how 'big' you want your sound to be, and perhaps on the size of the room you're using for your Home Cinema setup!

All this means you can grow a Sonos Playbar setup to be a full 5.1 surround sound solution over time.

How does it sound? Pretty damn good! As stated above, I'm no audiophile but the clarity and quality of sound seems excellent.  I do want to see though whether it can be further improved by using the Sonos 'Trueplay' tuning solution.  I'll expand on this in a future post, but for now I'm already very impressed.

Setup was a breeze, with discovery quick and easy.  We moved our Play 1 speaker to the Kitchen, and created a new 'room'. for that.  Now, we can play different music in each room, or group the two rooms together to play the same music in both locations.  I'll also expand on the 'grouping' capability in a future post.

As stated in the Play 1 article I wrote up, I'm keen to see how I can integrate this with our other Smart Home systems.  Keep an eye on the website for more soon!