One thing that has been a part of home theater since the beginning is those pesky wires that connect everything together. Sure, the interconnects that connect the gear together are pretty simple to install; just connect plug A into slot B, and so forth. It’s the wires that you need to connect the speakers that give many people fits.
The fact is that for many people, running speaker wires, especially for the surround and rear speakers, is at best, a giant pain in the butt. For others, it’s a task that can involve substantial expense and the kind of damage that makes you have to sleep in the spare room until she cools down a bit. If you live in a home with some concrete walls or a vaulted ceiling, you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?
Of course, you could call for some professional help to get those wires where they have to go and mount the speakers. In most cities there are excellent custom installers standing by that would probably love the work. Check the CEDIA website here, for a list of CEDIA member firms in your area that might take on your project.
What if you either love doing it yourself, or don’t have the budget to hire in the pros? In that case, you may be forced to consider a wireless home theater system. There is no doubt that wireless systems have come quite a long way, even in just the last few years. Thank technology’s relentless march forward for that one. However, that technological march is a double edged sword, as you’ll discover in a minute.
Digital signal processing, digital amplification, and RF advancements have propelled home theater systems sans wires far beyond where they were, but have they come far enough for you to consider giving one of them an honored place in your family, living, or rec room? Well, there are limitations of such systems. In the first place, while you get plenty of speaker and equipment placement flexibility, that same freedom doesn’t extend to your ability to upgrade or expand your system. In most cases, these are closed systems. What you got is what you get, and that’s all there is to it.
If you decide to upgrade the speakers when that quarterly bonus check comes through, or you’d like to give yourself a birthday present of a bit more power, sorry, no soup for you! The price you pay for ease of installation is that you have to stick with the system as it came. No mixing and matching to incrementally improve the system as your budget allows.
That’s a shame, because that’s the way many people build their systems into the home theater of their dreams. They start with what they can afford today, and slowly change this and that until it’s what they really wanted when they broke out their VISA card in the first place. You know the feeling, right?
The other caveat is that changing a system to accommodate new technology happens more often than not these days, and it is more difficult (sometimes impossible) to do with a wireless system. The relentless pace of change in consumer electronics virtually assures that this will be the case. What? You only have 5.1? What about 7, no make that 9.1? If you wanted to add a new 3D Blu-Ray and TV to that High-Zoot receiver you bought only a couple of years ago, only to discover that the HDMI 1.3 included in its feature set just won’t let you do that, you know of what I speak.
So, that being said, do wireless theater systems have a place in your home? They answer may actually be a resounding “Yes!”. After all even modest systems of today have performance that surpasses even the middle of the road systems of a decade ago. Again, thank technology for that one. That means that your wireless home theater, while not reaching the performance pinnacle of a nice traditional receiver and wired speaker or separate pre-pro/amp based system, can still give exhilarating performance that will be fine for many people, especially for gaming or in secondary surround systems.
Complete Wireless Home Theater System In a Box
The popularity of the all-in-one, so called “Home theater in a box” style of system has increased tremendously in the last couple of years, as performance has increased and consumers look for more convenience.
Much as with the iPOD revolution, this may not be a case of “it sounds as good as I can afford” but “it sounds good enough”. While some purists view this as unfortunate, there’s no denying that it has brought the enjoyment of surround sound to the masses, much as the iPOD made people listen to music on a much larger scale than ever before. Ubiquity by mediocrity, as it were.
If you’re looking for a way to dramatically improve the sound of your TV, and add the increased drama and excitement surround sound delivers, without jumping into the deep end of the pool, such a system may be just what the doctor ordered. They’re easy to install, and definitely fill your “make it sound a heck of a lot better than my TV speakers” order. They’re also a great choice for apartment dwellers, so you can enjoy home theater without your neighbors pounding on the wall and screaming “Turn it down!”
Some of the most popular examples of all-in-one systems include a couple from Panasonic, Sony, and Samsung. Click on the links below and see actual customer reviews on some of the leading all-in-one, wireless home theater systems from Amazon.com:
Don’t Want to Go the Home Theater In a Box Route?
You may have your sights set on a bit more performance than the typical home theater in a box can deliver. In addition, many people don’t really need a full on wireless home theater, they simply need wireless speakers for the surround and rear channels. The A/V components, front speakers, center channel, and subwoofer can connect the old fashioned way; with wires.
Just Wireless Surround Speakers, Please
On many occasions, you don’t need a complete wireless system, merely a way to get the surround speakers where they need to go for your existing gear. Maybe you simply want to expand your 5.1 system to 7.1. The front part of the system is just fine, thank you. Here you have a couple of choices. There are complete, wireless speaker solutions, where you just plug in the power and the transmitter, and press play. These speaker systems have everything built in; the speakers actually contain the radio receiver and power amplifier to make it all work.
The aforementioned all-in-one wireless speaker solutions are certainly functional, but you’re pretty much stuck with the sound quality that they deliver, and in many cases it isn’t quite what you want if your idea of home theater goes beyond “I want to hear something from back there”.
Wireless Audio Transmitter for Surround or Zone 2 Speakers
If you’re performance minded, you may be looking for something that rates a little higher on the goose bump scale. In that case, a wireless transmitter to send the audio to whatever speakers you’ve decided will sound the best for your budget may be more up your alley. Thankfully, there have been many advances in this area recently. You really can get great sound quality this way, without enduring any of the static, pops, and dropouts that afflicted the genre only a few years ago.
If you do need to get rear speakers to their appropriate locations or expand an existing 5.1 system to 7.1, but want to choose your own speakers, there are a only a few viable solutions. Sure, there are many on the market, but only a few are high enough quality to trust your theater experience to. The ARW20 system from Acoustic Research is a great choice. It includes high quality 60 watt amps for each channel, which is plenty for the rears or surround speakers in most systems. Unlike many amplified wireless solutions, the amps are high quality, and they provide enough power.
One caveat for those of you with wireless Internet, however. The wireless for the ARW20 is so strong, it does a great job at delivering great sound quality, but it will probably disrupt your wireless Internet while you’re using your speakers. Hey, small price to pay enjoying surround, unless you have a remote that uses your wireless network, or you’re streaming content to your theater wirelessly.
To see more about the the ARW20, including what users have to say about it, click here:
AR Powered Wireless Audio
Wireless HDMI to Your TV
The one other place where wireless can really come in handy is getting the all important video signal to your TV or projector. Sure, you’ll also need power to make the thing light up, but with the need of everyone to hang that sexy, new thin flat panel on their wall, it’s often getting the video there that is the most difficult piece of the puzzle.
If you haven’t heard, HDMI is notoriously finicky, to the point where many custom installers would love to get members of the HDMI consortium alone in a room with a set of brass knuckles for a few minutes and have a little chat about all the time they’ve wasted over the last few years. Be that as it may, the reality is that HDMI is the way video is done now, and 3D is only available over HDMI. In addition, soon blu-ray players will give you no other option for HD video but HDMI.
So, HDMI it is, but what if you have no HDMI run to that spot over your fireplace where you want to put your TV/ (Isn’t that spot over your fireplace a bit too high off the ground for comfortable viewing? Oh well, that’s a discussion for another day.) As with getting speakers to difficult locations, wireless is often the best solution for this. Fortunately wireless HDMI solutions do exist, and they do work well. Unfortunately, working well, wireless, and HDMI aren’t easy to speak in the same sentence with a straight face, so wireless HDMI solutions that work well tend to be a bit spendy.
One of the most popular wireless HDMI solutions embraced by the custom installation community is the Gefen
WirelessHDMI unit, which will send your 1080p video up to 30 feet through the air. Remember that wireless transmission is subject to all manner of environmental factors, hence the “up to” disclaimer. Your range may be shorter, depending on things such as the construction of your home, where your components are placed, and so forth. To see their latest generation solution click the link below:
What It All Means
If you need to install or expand your home theater wirelessly, you can rejoice. There are viable solutions available to you now, and that’s not something that could be said as recently as 4 or 5 years ago.