Home Theater Review

 

Will the Wireless Home Theater System Ever Become a Reality?

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xxc.jpegIt was the year 2005 that I sat down to review my first "wireless" home theater system, which actually required the running of more physical wires than your standard 5.1-channel HT setup. The approach from the start was less about cutting down on the number of wires and more about creating a wire-free zone in the middle of the room: The front three speakers would be wired to the system's receiver in the traditional fashion, while the surrounds would be wired either to a subwoofer/amp or some type of wireless transmitter that had to plugged in behind the listening area. The rallying cry was, "At least you don't have to run speaker wire across the room from front to back."

About a year and a half later, I revisited the topic of wireless audio. At this point, music transmission over WiFi was gaining steam, and we were seeing more devices that let you wirelessly transmit audio from an iPod or computer to an audio system. A few wireless speakers were available on the market, usually a single speaker or pair of speakers that came with a wireless transmitter and receiver for use either as surrounds or as a wireless zone-two option (I wrote about the JBL OnAir Control 2.4G. We also saw some wireless adapter kits, like KEF's Universal Wireless Speaker Kit, that let you add wireless functionality to any speakers via a transmitter/receiver combo. Most of these systems worked over the 2.4GHz band.

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Fast-forward to today, and we all know what has transpired in the area of wireless music distribution - that category has exploded, and there's certainly no shortage of AV receivers, AV servers, HDTVs, tabletop speakers, streaming media players, and gaming consoles that allow you to wirelessly move your music around the house. But what happened to the promise of a wireless home theater system? We've got plenty of active soundbars with wireless subwoofers, and the "wire-free zone" approach is still alive and well, as a number of HTiBs from big-name manufacturers like Samsung and LG offer a wireless surround option. But why hasn't it evolved beyond that? Why have we so successfully cut the chord in other areas, but we're still running speaker cable to the vast majority of multichannel speaker systems?

The short answer is, the signal quality and reliability simply wasn't good enough. In the world of network/Bluetooth/AirPlay audio streaming, signal dropouts happen from time to time, and we live with it. You're streaming music from your iPhone to a tabletop radio, you pop your daughter's lunch in the microwave, and the song cuts out for a few seconds. Most people are willing to accept the occasional interference issue in a casual streaming product, but the same is not true in the home theater. If you've invested thousands of dollars into assembling a high-quality multichannel HT system, even the rare signal dropout is simply unacceptable. The customer won't tolerate it, and the custom installer wants no part of that risk, since they will ultimately get the blame if the system performance is not reliable.

Click on over to page 2 to learn about the WISA and what it means for wireless . . 

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