True surround sound has always required lots of speakers, and the clutter only increases if you want a no-compromise Dolby Atmos system with "3D" sound. Of course, people have always wanted surround without the hassle, and that's why all-in-one soundbars exist. Now, Samsung is promising to deliver a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos system with its HW-K950 soundbar.
Atmos — which is used in fancy cinemas — puts sound above you with either ceiling-mounted or upward-firing speakers. To get sound raining down on you, Samsung's new soundbar has four (that's the .4 in 5.1.4) upward-firing sound beams that bounce off the ceiling. But calling this a soundbar system is a bit of a stretch — there's a soundbar, yes, but also a subwoofer and two independent surrounds. Those two speakers and the soundbar itself shoot upwards as well as laterally, meaning you'll have a somewhat traditional 5.1 system as well as the sensation of four discrete sources from the ceiling.
Not really a soundbar, to be honest
The extra speakers should certainly improve directionality over a true all-in-one system, like Yamaha's YSP-5600 soundbar, which uses fancy software to tailor its sound-bouncing to generate a "7.1.2" Dolby Atmos system. Yamaha's soundbar was the first to offer Atmos. As for the Samsung speaker, its surrounds connect wirelessly to the soundbar to try to keep setup from becoming a major hassle. You'll still need to find somewhere to put those two rear speakers and subwoofer though.
No pricing yet on Samsung's HW-K950 soundbar, but we're certain to hear (and see) more at CES this week. If you're thinking of upgrading to Atmos, keep in mind that just over a couple dozen Blu-rays support the format so far, and only a few streaming movies on services like Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu have Atmos soundtracks. And if you already have a 5.1 or 7.1 system, you can simply replace your rear surrounds with upward-firing speakers to add Atmos support.
CES 257 gadgets in three minutes