Wireless Surround Sound Speakers - The Future?
Are wireless surround sound speakers the next big thing? Hong Kong leads the market in the release of wireless 5.1 speaker systems. Wireless and active surround sound speakers with built-in decoders appear to be topping the list of R & D expenditures in various Chinese technology manufacturing companies. Makers in both Hong Kong and mainland China are racing to come out with the latest wireless surround speakers, and upgrade various 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 systems to make use of this technology.
2.4GHz RF and Bluetooth integration coupled with digital amplification systems seem to be the direction many companies are headed in terms of providing new innovative products for average consumers looking to expand into, or improve upon, home theater systems. The advantages are obvious - no line level signal wires to run and a great freedom of speaker placement throughout the listening room and home. Here are some of the challenges to the format:
- Perceived and actual signal quality of 2.4GHz and Bluetooth systems [Bluetooth has a practical data transfer rate of 433kbps though using asymetrical transfers that rate can be increased (Dolby Digital requires 400 kbps and DTS uses up to 448kbps - for a full 5.1 stream)]
- DSP issues related to encoding and decoding signals sent to wireless surround speakers
- Digital amplification quality for surround channels (Class-D amplification seems to be the currently favored amplifcation for wireless surround loudspeakers)
- Wireless loudspeakers will require power - is the format potentially exchanging one inconvenience (speaker cables) for another (running power to surround speakers.) One thing to note is that it will be far easier to locate power to a surround speaker than a line level or speaker level cable which needs to originate from the opposite side of the listening room.
Wireless speaker systems currently account for less than ten percent of Hong Kong's production output, however manufacturers expect the demand to grow as inquiries continue to come in. It is estimated that by the third quarter, the wireless speaker systems launched in the first half-year are expected to go into mass production.
Current versions utilize either 2.4GHz RF or IR technology, though IR models are less popular because they are not as user-friendly as their RF counterparts. Moreover, the IR transmission gets terminated whenever there is an obstacle between the transmitter and the receiver. MIR (1.15 Mbps) or FIR (4Mbps) would presumably need to be used in order to transmit the necessary information to the surround speakers, though we'll find out more once additional products are produced that address home theater users specifically.
Most first launches in this area will be 5.1 surround speaker systems featuring wireless 2.4GHz rear speakers only. Several firms use RF module from Singapore and LG also produces several wireless 2.4GHz RF components that are being utilized by others. Most plan to start applying wireless features to entire 5.1 systems by the third quarter. Pricing for these products is remarkably inexpensive since the technology is proven and labor costs are relatively inexpensive.