Testing the Best: The Bose VideoWave, the Best-Sounding TV Ever

Has Bose gone too far with a 46-inch TV that costs upwards of $5,000? Or is this instead the best TV possible for the rich and lazy?
tv on a wall
images for Bose Corp, AB marcy pery, AD various Scott Lowden

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Looked at one way, the Bose VideoWave is a 46″ CCFL-backlit LCD TV that costs $5,349, a rare bird in a market where such things have become commodity products at a tenth that price. Sure, it’s got integrated speakers and does virtual surround decoding, but hey, they make soundbars for that, right? But the VideoWave offers a lot more–and a lot less, which poetically is a lot more. This isn’t an all-in-one. It’s just the simplest-working, best-sounding out-of-the-box TV you’ve ever heard.

As Bose’s Santiago Carvjal told me, the design goal of the VideoWave was to provide the best, simplest rendering device for audio and video the company could possibly execute in a single device. In pursuit of that goal of simplicity, it forgoes the usual add-ons: There’s no Ethernet, no Wi-Fi, no apps, no 3-D, not even a TV tuner, which you might assume comes in such a premium-priced product. Instead, Bose expects that you’ll bring your own favored a la carte sources. Cable box? Yes, you’ll need it. Got an Apple TV? Perfect. Roku? No problem. Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player? Fantastic. This is a very nice looking fully backlit LCD (albeit CCFL, not LED), and on the video front, that’s all it is.

It’s the sound that’s the real story here, justifying the excitement and (depending, of course, on your credit-card limit) the price tag. 16 speakers are at work here, in a novel arrangement. The heavy lifting is handled here by six drivers, arranged in three back-to-back pairs to reduce vibration (the same arrangement employed in Bose’s recent SoundLink Bluetooth portable), driving one of Bose’s signature waveguides. The low-end output of the system is downright amazing for its size–you’ll really think you’re hearing a sub. The phantom left, right, and “surround” channels are implemented using a pair of highly-directional arrays (what Bose calls “PhaseGuides”) that provide a convincing soundstage; seven drivers on the top of the set and one at the bottom center create a center channel.

A single cable connects the VideoWave to a companion console, which looks nice enough to display but can get tucked away in a cabinet. Here you’ll plug in your sources (an iPod dock is also provided, though no docking cable is yet available for the iPad). Integrating your source devices is, as you might expect by now, incredibly simple. The console communicates with your devices via IR; an onboard database includes IR codes for most devices, and it can be updated by the user if you need even more. That makes the whole process of plugging in new sources incredibly easy. When you connect a new device, a wizard asks that you push a few buttons on its remote, it matches the transmission against the database, and…that’s it. Setup over.

VideoWave Remote

Once configured, you can control all of your devices from the VideoWave’s minimalist RF remote controller. It uses a square touchpad surface, the operation of which is reminiscent of the old iPod click wheel. There are no codes to enter, no multiple remotes to keep on hand. All necessary parameters for the source device in use are displayed at the border of the screen image. It’s a very thoughtful way to emphasize how concise this TV is: you’ve got the one screen, and one remote. Very slick.

In action, the VideoWave is about the most impressive “soundbar” I’ve come across (while it’s impossible to A/B from memory, I felt that the virtual soundfield was as realistic as that created by Yamaha’s YSP-4100 and 5100), and the combo is certainly the most best integration of an audio system into a TV that I can recall experiencing.

The VideoWave can get seriously loud (it’s meant to, and certainly could, be the sole audio system in a household), and the faux-surround field is highly enjoyable. Stereo effects translate particularly well, though you don’t get a real sense of the rear/surround channels and if you sit too close you do begin to localize the source a bit, so the overall sense of immersion isn’t entirely convincing. But it is hard to believe that all of that sound is coming from a TV. The sound quality is minimally affected by the placement of the device–as long as it’s not in a cabinet or a corner, it should sound great.

So who is the VideoWave for? For most, this’ll be overkill–you can get a pretty decent TV of this size for a tenth of the VideoWave’s price, and for a grand or so you can get a really good one. Even if you spring for a YSP-5100 soundbar, which also, we should say, sounds fantastic, you’ll still come in at a far smaller overall system cost.

But Bose isn’t selling a TV here, or a sound system, so much as they’re selling a particular notion of simplicity as a luxury. Once the VideoWave is plugged in and configured, there’s nothing else for you to do but sit back and enjoy. The price may be high, but it includes delivery, installation (wall mounting is a $150 upcharge), calibration, and recycling of your old set, should you so desire.The remote’s a snap to navigate, playing content form (and even upgrading) your source components is painless, and no unsightly speaker cabinet will ever mar the lines of your furniture or leave an impression in your carpet.

If you’re a well-heeled, design-conscious, and somewhat space-challenged home theater buff in need of a compact system, and you’re too busy to shop around for components or set ’em up (that means you, New Yorkers, Londoners, and Tokyoites), this may well be your next system.

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified the TV as LED-backlit, rather than CCFL-backlit. Sorry for the confusion.