My biggest complaint about the Beam is that it can be a little too streamlined unless your requirements are very simple. There are no HDMI inputs here, one less input on your TV for disc players or game consoles. My TV was already full of ports, so I connected the Beam to the included optical audio adapter. However, you then lose the simplicity of HDMI ARC and may need to use an app to control your volume (the Beam is trying to learn your TV’s IR codes from the remote control, but my Samsung TV didn’t work well).
On the flip side, if you just want the best movie performance in a small form factor, I’d recommend the Sony HT-X8500, which has great sound and is incredible value for the $ 520 price tag. This is a 3-inch two-channel soundbar with bold built-in subwoofers that also accepts cutting-edge object-based sound formats and does a good job of creating a large sound field.
It’s certainly no substitute for an actual surround setup with an army of physical speakers, but this little soundbar can make it seem like the sound is coming at you from the sides rather than directly. When a Dolby Atmos or DTS: X signal is fed in, it also tries to create virtual height channels that sound like they’re coming from your roof. I couldn’t really tell at home, but when watching movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray, the Atmos mix was bigger and more cinematic than the 5.1.
The HT-X8500 has HDMI input so you can get the most of it without losing any input from your TV, and it can even be broadcast over 4K HDR or Dolby Vision. It also supports eARC. So if you have a brand new TV, you should be able to pass advanced sound formats from any input or built-in apps on your TV to the soundbar.
As a mid-range handlebar, the HT-X8500 is much cheaper than most Atmos-enabled systems, but it lacks a certain luxury. For example, there is no front display and no app connectivity. To set up the advanced modes, you need to remember what different LED combinations mean (or have the manual nearby). And there’s no Wi-Fi option for listening to music, but there is good old bluetooth.
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