So, you finally bought that big flat panel TV for your living room. You used the proper wall mount or stand, and even wired it to your audio receiver. It sounds great for sports and TV, but oftentimes, you wish you had surround sound for watching movies, or for video gaming.
Typical challenges of wired systems
In traditional home theater surround sound systems, there is a receiver wired to 6, 7, or 8 different speaker cabinets. You look at your living room and you start to imagine where you could put the subwoofer(s) and where the surround speakers might go. You start to get excited, almost debating with yourself where the sound might be best in terms of coverage and quality. Ok, so your living room is not exactly setup for home theater speakers, but you could make it work, right?
But then, right then, you start to think about the copper speaker wires, and how you would hide them. One side of your living room opens to the kitchen. The other side of the room has a staircase, good luck getting wires around that without creating a trip hazard. It can’t be done without hiring an electrician or expensive home theater installer, who will charge you an arm and a leg, just to pull the wires through the walls and ceiling. You would do it yourself, if you had the drills and the tools needed to pull the wires, but you don’t. You want to do it right, but it seems like a huge cost and commitment. Won’t the investment be lost if you decide to move, or just decide to rearrange the living room?
Don’t feel alone; this is the point where most home owners and renters get discouraged, and give up on surround sound. Or, they just run the cables under carpets and throw rugs, and deal with the eyesores.
Who wouldn’t want to go wireless?
The concept of wireless speakers is not a new one. The most common wireless audio technology uses the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is also used by 802.11b/g wi-fi devices, and is also integrated with most smart phones too. With billions of devices operating in this spectrum, the result is dropouts and poor audio quality. The 16-bit compression algorithms needed to compete in such hostile wireless environments have turned off audiophiles. These are the same purists who cling to vinyl records while the masses download mp3s of various bit rates. Obviously neither extreme is correct for the home theater environment. Most people want a digital solution that works with their movies and music, that sounds good, and is easy to setup. And it would be great if it was affordable, or scalable.
Why WiSA Compliant wireless speakers are different
WiSA™ (Wireless Speaker and Audio) compliant products use spread spectrum technology in the 5 GHz Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) frequency band. This avoids interference by other consumer wireless devices. The result is audiophile-quality, 24-bit surround sound at up to 96kHz, with no delay in audio from source to speaker.
WiSA compliant products are affordable because of scalability.
You can buy a basic WiSA compliant 2.1 system initially and then add the surround sound speakers at a later date. Or maybe you decide to get a bigger subwoofer, and give your old one to the kids. You can upgrade from 5.1, to 6.1 to 7.2, and the technology works the same.
Each WiSA compliant speaker will have a built-in amplifier that will be customized to the combined impedance load of the driver and cabinet. These are called active speakers or powered speakers. You may never need to purchase a separate AV receiver again. The big stereo component racks are a thing of the past. Hidden is “in”, and with a WiSA solution, the master/transmitter can also be the DTV, Blu ray player, game console, etc. It’s currently in a small wireless hub.
Another big difference about WiSA compliant devices is the interoperability between manufacturers. WiSA enabled products will be tested to ensure compliance with the WiSA standard. Consumers and installers will be able to purchase Blu-ray players, HDTVs, A/V Receivers and gaming consoles displaying WiSA™ logos, knowing that those devices will work with various speakers brands that also display a WiSA compliance logo. The result is a plug-and-play scenario for the home speaker market.
But seriously, does it sound good?
Early wireless systems were plagued with hiss, hum, and artifacts due to interference with other devices operating on the same RF transmission bands. In addition, many wireless speakers compromise the sound quality by using compression and 16-bit algorithms. Here are the technical highlights of the WiSA compliant technology:
- 24-bit uncompressed audio (instead of 16-bit compressed like most use)
- Sample rate that matches the content: 32, 44.1, 48, and 96k samples/sec
- Realistic sound, perceptibly 50% better than CDs, HD Audio quality
- Rapid error detection and recovery – smooth, uninterrupted sound
- 5 ms fixed latency – perfect lip sync in movies and video games
- Under 160ns speaker-to-speaker delay
- Amplifiers and speakers matched and balanced as a unit
- iPhone and Droid apps that allows easy setup and tuning of sweet spot (apps not yet available)
It’s so easy, your parents could do it
One of the biggest selling points of the WiSA technology is the mobile phone application, which allows you to easily change the “sweet spot” within your living room. You can also rearrange your living room and the WiSA home theater speakers will time align themselves at the push of a button.
The typical WiSA certified home theater system setup would go something like this:
- Unbox everything and toss away the instruction manuals. Not really, I’m just checking to see if you were actually paying attention. Read all the instruction manuals, cover to cover, twice.
- Mount your TV on the wall or use a pedestal type stand, carefully following the instructions.
- Using two HDMI cables, wire the Blu-Ray Player to the WiSA enabled transmitter unit, to the TV
- Place your speakers around the room, roughly where you want them (you can adjust later).
- Power up the amplifier in each speaker using any standard wall power outlet.
- If the speakers are outfitted with ultrasonic transducers (higher end models), they can auto-configure themselves, including the channel assignments (right vs. left), proper delay times, etc.
- If the speakers are not outfitted with the transducers (more affordable models), simply download the app and configure the speakers with a few clicks on your smartphone. (Please note: mobile apps not yet available) Or use the remote to walk you through the setup process
Now, you are good to go; just sit back and enjoy the premium high quality surround sound. Show your friends and family how you can set the sweet spot with your smart phone, adjust the volume, even change the source (Cable, Blu-ray). It’s okay to let them play with it, you can save your own settings to be recalled when they are done. For more information, please visit www.wisaassociation.org and follow WiSA on Facebook and Twitter.
Paul Konikowski CTS-D, B.S. Computer Engineering, Georgia Tech, LEED® Green Associate is an independent technology consultant for WiSA. Paul is the Digital Media Manager for Sustainable Fairfax, a member of Infocomm, and the U.S. Green Building Council.