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Home Theater Speakers Getting a Wireless Standard

The Wireless Speaker & Audio Association is working on specifications for wireless high-def audio

Nothing complements a big-screen HDTV like a great 5.1 or 7.1 home theater audio system -- but running wires to connect speakers in all corners of a room can get messy. Wireless speakers address the cable problem, but with no standard in place for wireless home theater audio, you're pretty much forced to buy a complete system from one vendor to be sure everything works.

The Wireless Speaker & Audio Association, or WiSA, a group that includes such well-known speaker manufacturers as Klipsch, Pioneer, Sharp, and the parent of Polk Audio, is trying to address that problem. The one-month-old group is working on specifications and a certification testing program for high-performance wireless speakers and the consumer electronics that use them (e.g. HDTVs and Blu-ray players). The idea is that WiSA-certified components would work together, regardless of manufacturer, to deliver high-quality home theater audio over wireless speakers.

The initial plan is for delivery of uncompressed HD audio over the 5GHz band, which is less crowded and therefore less subject to signal interference than the lower frequencies some wireless speaker systems have used (particularly the very busy 2.4GHz band that Bluetooth and most Wi-Fi devices use). Summit Semiconductor, which sells 5GHz wireless audio technology to speaker manufacturers, demonstrated a couple of systems using its chips at CES, and the audio was pretty impressive.

Right now, the only commercially available products using Summit's technology are Aperion's 5.1 and 7.1 home theater systems, and they don't come cheap ($2,499 and $2,999, respectively). However, they include features in Summit's designs that go beyond the WiSA specs, including the ability to adjust output to a user-defined "sweet spot" (you press a button on the remote to tell the system where you are, and the speakers communicate with each other using ultrasound technology).

Summit also demonstrated a sound bar that would cost much less and produce simulated surround sound. Customers could later build out this system with additional WiSA-certified speakers.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.

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