To preface, per terms of the contract – I was sent a VIZIO SB36512-F6 Premium Home Theater Sound System at no expense to myself for review purposes last month. I am under no obligation to be nice to VIZIO however.
I have spent a month with this listening to Dolby Atmos test audio, Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos encoded movies, games, etc and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what the thing can do.
If you’re not familiar with Atmos, you might want to check out what it is here. The TL;DR version is it’s a 360 degree sound experience that can position sound overhead as well.
That said, it’s harder to get Atmos delivered to you than you might think. We’ll go into that later as that’s unrelated to the sound bar.
What is it?
The VIZIO SB36512-F6 is a (partially,) wireless 7-channel sound bar capable of pushing out in the neighborhood of 101db that can connect to almost any type of audio be that ARC over HDMI, optical, RCA, 3.5mm, Bluetooth, or as a Chromecast Audio receiver device you can control with Google Assistant / Google Home via WiFi (802.11n,) or ethernet.
It also brings the boom.
What’s in the SB36512-F6 box
- 36″ soundbar with two upfiring and three forward firing speakers
- 1 wireless subwoofer
- 2 rear speakers that connect via wires to the subwoofer
- Cables of the power, HDMI, RCA, 3.5mm, Digital Optical, speaker connector, and optical variety
- Remote control and batteries
- User manual, which you can click here to read now
Installation for my initial testing consisted of plugging in the HDMI, two power cords, and plugging the the rear speaker cables into the subwoofer. Total install time was about seven minutes with the only install issue being that in the dark trying to identify the colors of the cables this colorblind guy mixed the left and right cables up in a low light situation.
I went to the advanced install section in the manual, however just plugging the HDMI cable in initiated an automatic setup for ARC with my display and I had to do nothing.
Both of my displays appear to automatically recognize and configure the ARC, your experience may vary. It’s not suggested you set up the audio this way initially for first time setup however. Most likely because not all displays are going to work with it.
As I recall it also involved putting a couple of batteries in the remote control. The sound bar paired with the subwoofer, or was pre-paired, so there was nothing to do there either.
It’s loud. Like really loud. The sound is crisp, deep, and the acoustic space created in my tiny test area rivaled my media room (which also has physically more space.) It automatically negotiated ARC settings with the VIZIO display and required no real setup.
I downloaded several ATMOS and Dolby Digital demos and started playing them at about 70% volume on my VIZIO setup and a Dolby Digital 5.1 setup I have in my media room and my initial conclusion was this sound bar with two little rear speakers and a 36 inch forward footprint was outperforming my 1000 watt system downstairs in every way that mattered.
It’s been a while since I’d played with a wireless system, and with 37 or so devices in my lab doing bluetooth, WiFi, Z-Wave, etc I suspected I’d have some sort of interference. I never managed to see any interference between the base and the bass even when trying to cause some.
Issues and resolutions
In testing I ran into some issues that I believe were entirely related to the default power saving mode. If you want to use this as a Chromecast audio device, just turn off ECO mode. It’s mentioned in the manual, however I managed to miss that line.
The little remote control has too many options buried in the non-backlit screen, however you can pop open any smartphone and use the VIZIO config software to set things like night mode or bass adjustments.
Dolby Atmos on the VIZIO SB36512-F6
If you can get Atmos content you’re set. That part may be a little harder than you think as very few services actually push it on all platforms. That’s not from any slacking on VIZIO’s part however.
So far I’ve managed to get it via plugging an XBOX One S in to the back of the sound bar, and a USB stick, but my normal media methods such as Netflix or Plex do not currently support pushing it to all platforms (Plex will push to the Shield, by Dolby Digital to my stuff.)
It sounds beautiful and I wish I had better words than that. This sound system has had me sitting with my eyes closed listening to a recorded world and wondering how much different it could possibly sound from reality.
I’ve heard Atmos before in numerous demo rooms, theaters, walls of sound bars at CES, and have generally been exposed to some pretty great sound systems in the past.
The SB36512-F6 didn’t quite make me lose my mind, it’s not as explosively loud as some I’ve heard, but man, if I had not have received this for free I would purchase it as a replacement for my media room. Well, this or the slightly more-speakered models they’re releasing later this year.
How to get Atmos?
While many services currently say they support it, that support may be limited to certain platforms (Roku, Shield, etc.) I’m not going to name names as it sounds like I’m shaming them, but it appears that all streaming services have a notable platform disparity in which it works with some and not another yet.
Some work on gaming systems, some only work on Nvidia Shields, some only work on a PC. It’s coming, it just isn’t universally here.
In order to get my first taste of Atmos I had to download a movie to a USB stick and plug it in. I imagine with everyone wanting to support it now it’ll get there (reading a slew of services working on it,) but as the Atmos spec has been out since 2012 it’s taking a little time for full support.
For now grab a bluray player and plug it into the sound bar and you’re probably set. I believe Atmos will only be delivered via HDMI so go for that as your ARC may not support it. You can find out what mode you’re in via the remote if you can’t tell.
The problem section you can skip
As I mentioned I had some issues which I attributed to the power saving mode. I was unable to reproduce them and VIZIO techs were unable as well. What was happening was the device would show as a Chromecast device and then disappear. The belief is that it was simply shutting down going into power saving mode and disconnecting from WiFi.
The rave review section
I honestly don’t know how to convey how much I like this product. From listening to people trying to creep up behind me on the XBOX One S, to all the odd sound cues you start hearing in ATMOS-enabled flicks, it’s done for audio what HDR did for video for me.
Don’t listen to this unless you are prepared to be disappointed with your existing system.
- You can disable the lights from the app
- Night mode for not blowing kids out of bed
- Multiple input sources
- Sound bar can tell you what the input is (Atmos, DD, etc)
Is this the best Atmos system I have ever heard? No. The best in the size, price range or even double the price? Hell yes.
I really am not doubting the rave reviews I’m reading. I don’t know if you know my work but for me to not have a valid complaint about a product after 30+ days is next to unheard of.
I mean the only thing I’m not actually enthused about is their app just isn’t quite my thing and the remote is difficult to read in the dark. OK, there we have the complaints. I’m feeling better now. Phew.
Looks like Sam’s Club has it for $449 online, and Costco hasn’t updated their website as of this writing.