Wireless Association Aims To Simplify Home Surround Sound

A regular lament among broadcast-sports-audio folks is that, even as discrete 5.1 surround sound has become ubiquitous, its effect is diluted, if not erased, by incorrect home-audio setups, particularly those that use home-theater-in-a-box products. An aversion to wires crisscrossing living rooms has kept many surround speakers from their rightful place behind the couch, and, while soundbars have been a growth category in the past year, bringing much-needed depth back to televisions whose internal speakers have been reduced to reed-like thinness, attempts at phase-manipulated ventriloquism to get surround channels to seem to come from the back of the room fall woefully short.

However, a development making an appearance at this week’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas might help give discrete 5.1 surround in the home a jump-start. The Wireless Speaker & Audio Association (WiSA), an industry trade group launched in 2011, promotes the adoption of WiSA-compliant wireless audio technology and encourages interoperability testing between CE devices and high-performance wireless speakers.

A key goal of the association is to have components from any of its manufacturer members — which include Polk Audio, Pioneer, and Sharp — be completely interchangeable. Any member-made transmitter will be recognized by any member’s speakers, even if the L-C-R array and the surrounds are from different manufacturers, even if the center and left-right speakers are from different brands. WiSA’s technical standards currently call for up to a 7.1 configuration, with the .1 channel supporting up to four subwoofers. (Multiple subs have become a favored configuration for home theaters in recent years, allowing better dispersion of the LFE channel.)

WiSA specifies wireless operation in the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) frequency band: specifically, the sub-band between 5.2 and 5.8 GHz. The 5 GHz U-NII spectrum has up to 24 available channels that are constantly monitored for interference using the Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS). When interference is detected, WiSA-enabled devices seamlessly switch to the next channel, which has been monitored for over one minute and confirmed for accessibility.

WiSA certification guarantees that the equipment will operate within a 30- x 30-ft. space, dimensions that the group’s Website says reflect realistic customer expectations. WiSA specs don’t currently support multiroom settings, but that is a future goal, the site states.

Sports Is Key
But how realistic is it to expect consumers to even know that accurate multichannel audio setups are crucial to experiencing discrete 5.1 surround properly and that wireless components are a useful solution? WiSA President Jim Venable believes it will happen and says that sports broadcasting is a key to that awareness.

“The challenge is in getting the word out,” he says, adding, “I think that sports broadcasters have really helped that by producing a lot of good, compelling content in 5.1.”

In fact, WiSA’s animated graphics on its home page use MLB, NFL, and NBA images, and Venable notes that an on-site demo at CES is using footage from ESPN’s broadcast of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game and several NFL playoff games on NBC.

“Sports broadcasters are the ones who are producing the most content in 5.1 and the most consistent 5.1 content,” he says, adding that sports broadcasting is likely 3D’s best proponent on television: “When it comes to new technologies, sports tends to be at the forefront.”

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