Televisions have never looked better — and they’ve never sounded worse. That’s the verdict from a growing number of aficionados and increasingly from the public too. Little wonder more and more users are choosing to upgrade the sound quality of their televisions with extra kit.
Chief among the complaints has been that dialogue is increasingly hard to hear; such criticism may often be put down to deafness, but it’s sometimes also due to the way TVs process sound.
Speakers using simple left and right channels neglect the fact that speech in films is easier to hear if it is given a separate, third channel of its own.
As television sets with straightforward stereo combine the dialogue with the rest of the sound, its clarity is lost.
And as TVs are now marketed on their ultra-slim designs, with their miniature profiles as much a part of their supposed appeal as the quality of the picture, the problem has been exacerbated. The space for speakers, previously hidden in enormous cabinets, has shrunk to almost nothing. Some mobile phones are now thicker than TVs, and the quality of sound has suffered.
That’s why the market for “soundbars” — slimline arrays of speakers that fit beneath TVs — has grown by 60 per cent in a year, compared to three per cent for the overall “home theatre” market.
In large part this is due to consumers rejecting the complexity of hi-fi set ups that require several remote controls and a complex spider’s web of cables to link them all together.
Audio brand Sonos joined Bose in offering a soundbar aimed at the increasing number of people who realise that their expensive new televisions may offer high definition pictures, but don’t offer matching sound quality.
Both seek to address a market that is clearly already spending a substantial amount on TV equipment.
The Sonos model can be connected to the company’s own subwoofer and a pair of additional speakers to create a full “surround-sound” option.
Perhaps most crucially, they also connect to internet radio and a user’s music collection, meaning that in theory a user could improve the sound quality in their living room while also rendering the hi-fi redundant.
Harmon Kardon and a host of other companies make a number of cheaper models. Some Blu-Ray players even come with free audio equipment.
Not all provide a substantial improvement to the sound of a TV — but they might at least mean you can hear what film stars are talking about.
Although it’s software and digital music that has propelled Sonos, its existence also underlines the painful truth: a huge chunk of modern technology values style over substance.
So whether that is television design, or laptops and mobile phones, where battery life is sacrificed to our apparent unwillingness to carry a extra few grams, the growing message is that not all technology is progress.