How close to a real home theater experience can I get with a sound bar instead of surround sound?
Some sound bars with built-in amplification offer some of the same features you find on receivers. And they have the jacks on the back to prove it. Depending on the equipment you have, very close indeed!
Video switching — This is a great feature if your TV doesn't have enough of a certain type of video input. Just plug all your audio/video components into your sound bar and then switch between them from there. Some sound bars also offer video conversion. For example, they can accept video signals via composite video and output component video. This can make for easier system operation, since you'll only have to switch inputs on your sound bar, and not on your TV. And a handful of sound bars can upconvert non-HD video sources to better match the resolution of your HDTV.
DVD playback — A few sound bars include a DVD player, either built into the sound bar itself, or as a separate unit.
XM readiness — A few sound bars give you access to XM Satellite Radio. Just add the XM Mini-Tuner package to a compatible sound bar to enjoy more than 170 channels of music, sports, talk, and entertainment.
MP3 compatibility — Some sound bars are compatible with optional iPod docks, which makes it really easy to enjoy all the music on your MP3 player. Simply connect the dock to the sound bar, and you can select songs and playlists using the sound bar's remote. (Of course, if you don't have a compatible MP3 player dock, you can simply plug your MP3 player in to a spare set of stereo RCA jacks using a stereo miniplug-to-RCA cable.)
Multibrand remote — If you don't want another remote control on your coffee table, consider a sound bar with a multibrand remote. This will let you control your other audio/video gear, such as your TV, DVD player, and satellite receiver. Some sound bars take the opposite approach — they don't include a remote, but can learn the commands of your television's remote control.