Best home theater systems of 2021

The best budget home theater system

Vizio SB36512 F6 soundbar system

Best buy

The Vizio SB36512-F6 soundbar system delivers a true Dolby Atmos home theater experience in an affordable and convenient package.

Advantages: Inexpensive, separate rear satellites, Dolby Atmos support, don’t require an AV receiver or wireless music streaming

Disadvantage: Small subwoofer, doesn’t support DTS: X, performance isn’t as impressive as larger systems

Sound bars are handy, but full surround sound setups are more impressive. What if you could combine the best of both worlds in one simple, budget-friendly package? This is where the Vizio SB36512-F6 soundbar system comes in. The system is inexpensive and easy to use, yet still offers a true home theater solution with support for Dolby Atmos.

Dolby Atmos is an audio format found on many Blu-ray discs and streaming services such as Netflix and Disney Plus. With Atmos, soundbars can create overhead effects through special speakers that bounce sound off your ceiling. For example, when rain falls from the sky or a helicopter flies overhead, an Atmos system can make it seem like the sound is overhead.

The Vizio SB36512-F6 is one of the most affordable and easiest Atmos soundbar options on the market, offering a full 5.1.2 system. This means that the soundbar itself has left, middle and right channels as well as two upward-pointing ignition channels. Two separate rear speakers for true surround sound and a 6-inch wireless subwoofer for dedicated bass are also included.

Best of all, the soundbar does the amplification and processing itself, so there is no need to buy an expensive receiver unit. The soundbar even has an additional HDMI input so that you can connect another device such as a game console or media player in addition to your television. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet are also included, giving you plenty of options for streaming music.

For its price, the SB36512-F6 offers impressive performance when watching movies and television, creating an enveloping sound field that wraps around and above your room. Atmos effects can be hit and miss, but the exciting drivers still add an extra level of immersion to movies.

The subwoofer is solid for its size too and offers better balance than other Vizio models I tested. That said, this package isn’t ideal for very large rooms. Separation, depth, and general clarity cannot compete with the quality of larger, more expensive systems. However, if you’re on a budget and want an entry-level home theater package, it doesn’t get much better.

If you’re tuned for a soundbar system and have more cash to spare, then you should also consider Vizio’s new Elevate Dolby Atmos soundbar. This model has a wider bar, larger subwoofer, riser drivers on the rear speakers, and rotating front channels. We think the SB36512-F6 is better value for money, but the Elevate is an impressive mid-range option.

$299.99 from Best buy

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