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Why can’t TVs have good audio by default?

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This answer depends on how cynical you are, but there are a number of things conspiring to keep your TV speakers crappy.

  1. A lack of space inside your TV— now that the trend for screens is to be thinner, less bezel-ly, and all-around smaller on the inside, there isn’t much room (if at all) to cram in decent or powerful speakers. The fact of the matter is, you’re just not going to get good quality sound to fill a room if the speakers are tiny and low-power.
  2. Less incentive to make good-sounding screens— why sell a reasonably-priced all-in-one solution when you can sell more hardware? While most manufacturers out there don’t do this anymore, for a long time the motivation to spend money on better-sounding TV speakers was… well… near non-existent. Additionally, big box stores also had incentive to compare “okay enough” speakers to the brand new home theater systems that blew them out of the water, enticing consumers with better audio. Sometimes it’s just hard to unhear when something sucks, so people buy the bigger unit.
  3. Aesthetic preferences of consumers— putting big speakers in televisions is extremely uncommon, and that’s for a reason: they’re just usually pretty ugly. Sony does this on some of its higher-end systems, but other manufacturers like Samsung and LG tend to try to get by with external soundbars, or something that doesn’t look like a speaker.
  4. Phase problems— even if you were to get pretty decent speakers in your TV, viewers who sit at weird angles to the screen would still hear a small change in audio quality due to the speakers being at different distances in relation to them. Also, because most screens are generally placed right up against a corner or wall, there can be some anomalies introduced by geometry of the room that the TV can’t account for. Sometimes the sound will reach your ear at slightly different times from channel to channel if it has to bounce off a corner or angled wall, which will sound a little off.
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