Sony has added the new HT-Z9F soundbar to its home theater and soundbar line-up in India. This comes at a time when there is an increasing focus on the audio experience to go with the TV that you may own, and Sony India believes soundbars are the way forward. In particular, the company believes that the Dolby Atmos capabilities add a lot of value to the proposition. Sony did share that the soundbar business grew 65 percent last year, and is looking to target a further 50 percent growth this year as well. Let us take the Z9F soundbar, for instance. This is priced at Rs 59,990 and joins the HT-X8500 (Rs30,990) and the ST5000 (Rs 1,39,990) line-up of Dolby Atmos capable soundbars. The Z9F goes on sale from 8th July, across all offline and online retail stores.
Sunil Nayyar, Managing Director, Sony India, believes that consumer preferences are dictating the change towards soundbars. Minimalism is one of those. “We see that customers are very rapidly shifting their preferences because everybody wants a minimalistic environment in the house. Everybody wants that. These products also bring in class and beauty and aesthetic elements in the living room,” he said, in a conversation with News18.
In fact, the Z9F isn’t short on specifications either. Apart from being compatible with the Dolby Atmos sound format, it also supports its rival DTS:X format. Then there is the Vertical Surround Engine, which is designed to project the soundwaves upwards towards the ceiling of the room as well. The Z9F also supports 4K HDR passthrough capabilities, and that can only be great news for anyone who regularly binge watches content on streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Video and Apple iTunes. “Here we are now, Blu-Ray is already having Dolby. Netflix and Amazon day by day are making their content richer too,” says Nayyar.
The Sony Z9F also offers the ability to add rear channel speakers, left and right, if that is what you feel is necessary to complete the home theater experience—and these are fully wireless, which means no cables snaking across your room at all. Called the SA-Z9R, these are optional and can be purchased separately for Rs 9,990. However, if you are to pre-book the Z9F soundbar before 8th July, you will get these as a free bundle. Now that is a genuine value addition to the entire purchase.
But why is Dolby Atmos such a big deal? If we have to look at it in a simplistic fashion, it is purely to enhance the surround sound experience. But that has been attempted for years now, and sometimes without great results, you may say? The devil perhaps lies in the detail. Till now, the implementation of surround sound was horizontal, which meant the attempts were made to push sound towards you with you feeling the effect that it was arriving at your ears from left and right, front or rear. Researchers at Dolby Laboratories attempted to create a 3D envelope, which includes what is above you. “It enables artists to treat specific sounds as individual entities, called audio objects. These can be precisely placed and moved by the soundtrack creator anywhere in the cinema's three-dimensional space—they are not confined to specific channels,” is how Dolby defines the Atmos experience. Now, you may have experienced Dolby Atmos at a few cinema halls near you, at some point during the weekend movie viewing routine. However, while cinema halls have the real estate to use a lot of speakers if needed to create that effect, the same has been replicated for your home. In a form factor as compact as a soundbar.
"As Atmos is expanding, more and more people are going to theaters to see movies, they can easily understand the experience. If you seriously tell them they can have this sort of experience in their home, you can make them listen to it," mentions Nayyar. At this juncture, Sony have taken the pains to place unique stands in Sony Centres and multi-brand electronics stores as well, where a prospective buyer can experience the sound from different soundbars, at the touch of a button. That is where the fine differences may be easily understood.
We are yet to fully test the Sony HT-Z9F in detail in a typical home usage environment and shall reserve our judgement on the performance and experience till such time. However, our previous experience with the Z9F’s sibling, the HT-X8500 clearly suggested that the vertical surround sound capabilities that Sony is pushing extensively, does work very well. As long as you have a scene in a movie that demands it. The Atmos capabilities really shone through too, with content on streaming services such as Netflix, with the sound significantly better than any other soundbar.