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Interference-Free, Audiophile-Quality, Wireless High-Definition Sound Certified (4/7/2012)
By Jim Venable, President, WiSA Association
In traditional home theatre surround sound systems there is a receiver or amplifier wired to six, seven, or eight different loudspeaker cabinets. In recent years however, the soundbar has emerged as an affordable upgrade to the built-in TV speakers, providing separate drivers for L-C-R and virtual surround. As flat panel televisions get thinner and thinner (along with their margins), the demand for external speakers grows, because the DTVs can no longer support quality speakers.
Originally seen as a DIY solution, the soundbar has caught on in the home theatre installation world, mostly by popular demand, and despite the bad economy, soundbar sales were up 250% in 2011 (Source: CEA).
Consumers want big, high-definition sound to match their video quality, but many are reluctant to invest in a fully-installed surround sound system. They may hire an installer to mount the television on the wall and then self-wire the TV to the stereo speakers they have had since college. They promise to get a big surround sound system 'one of these days' and it never happens, because the price for the system and installation is often too big to swallow all at once.
Wouldn't it be great if the customer could buy one or two speakers at a time, making the jump from 2.1 to 5.1 to 7.2 as their budgets allowed, and do it all with a high-quality wireless system?
A New Wireless Standard
WiSA, the Wireless Speaker & Audio Association, promotes an audiophile-quality, 24-bit surround sound solution that will allow consumers to mix and match home theatre speakers, even from different manufacturers. So, a consumer can start with a soundbar and easily add more surround channels at a later date. Likewise, the value-added reseller can contact previous installation clients to see if they want to upgrade their home theatre systems.
Speakers certified as compliant by the WiSA Association come outfitted with an ultrasonic transducer that allows the speakers to automatically time align themselves with other speakers in the room at the push of a button. The installer (or end user) can dial in the sweet-spot using his or her smart phone, and can easily reconfigure the speakers for 2.1, 3.1, 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, 7.2 and so on.
The concept of wireless speakers is not a new one, but until now, wireless sound has been less than impressive. The most common wireless audio technology uses the 2.4GHz spectrum, which is also used by 802.11b Wi-Fi devices such as smart phones. The result is dropouts and poor audio quality. Furthermore, the 16-bit compression algorithms needed to compete in such hostile wireless environments have turned off audiophiles - the same purists who cling to vinyl records while the masses download mp3s of various bitrates. Obviously neither extreme is appropriate for the home theatre environment - most people just want a digital solution that works with their movies and music, sounds great, and is easy to use.
Why WiSA-compliant Wireless Speaker Technology is Different
Early analogue wireless systems were plagued with hiss, hum, and artefacts, but while digital audio has eliminated these issues, many wireless speakers compromise the sound quality by using compression and 16-bit algorithms.
The WiSA Association is setting a new standard for high-performance digital wireless speakers. These speakers use spread spectrum technology within the 5GHz Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) frequency band, which avoids interference from other consumer wireless devices. The result is audiophile-quality, 24-bit surround sound, with virtually no lag.
The technical highlights of the WiSA Association certified test specification are as follows:
* 24-bit uncompressed audio (instead of the more commonly-used 16-bit compressed audio).
The WiSA Association Advisory Board comprises representatives from leading companies in the home theatre ecosystem including Aperion Audio, GGEC, Hansong Electronics, Klipsch, Meiloon Industrial Co., Pioneer Corporation, Polk Audio, Sharp Corporation, Silicon Image, and Summit Semiconductor.
The WiSA Association's general membership is made up of Members (manufacturers) and Associate Members (trusted vendors and branded resellers). Members and Associate Members may display the WiSA logo signifying their membership in the Association and indicating that they make or sell WiSA-compliant products.
Members receive these valuable programme benefits:
* Testing and certification - Access to the Certification and Test Specification (CTS) to ensure members' product designs will successfully pass compliance and interoperability testing. Passing the certification and interoperability testing ensures that any brand of WiSA-compliant speaker works with any WiSA-compliant CE source device such as a DTV, set-top box, Blu-ray Disc player, gaming console, etc.
* Marketing tools - The Association offers a compliance logo placement programme that identifies certified products in the retail environment. Consumers are able to easily identify WiSA-compliant products and purchase them with confidence, knowing they will work with any other WiSA-compliant product within the home theatre environment. Member companies and their WiSA-enabled products will also be listed on the Association's website, be included in promotions at industry events attended by the WiSA Association, and have opportunities to participate in additional co-marketing opportunities as appropriate.
* WiSA Extranet - A members-only website for exclusive access to the latest advancements in WiSA technology, including access to the Certification and Test Specification (CTS).
In the next two years, the use of Wi-Fi devices will triple, meaning congestion and interference is going to get worse for wireless speakers operating at 2.4GHz. The WiSA Association promotes the only wireless speaker technology that has an FCC certification for the U-NII band. This new technology offers the industry a reliable wireless solution, and one that installers can endorse because of the rigorous testing and compliance process required to achieve WiSA certification.
Furthermore, with promised interoperability between leading speaker manufacturers, resellers of WiSA-certified products will be spending less time on drilling holes and pulling wires, and more time selling speakers.
Jim Venable is the President of the WiSA Association, an industry group dedicated to ensuring quality wireless audio connectivity in the home theatre. You can hear the WiSA technology first hand in September at CEDIA 2012 in Indianapolis, Sound Room 13. To find out more, or to request an application for membership, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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