What Is Wireless Home Theater?

Wireless connection options in the home theater environment

A wireless home theater or entertainment system may refer to any sound system that incorporates wireless surround sound speakers connected via a wireless home network (Wi-Fi). But it can also mean so much more than that. Let's explore all the different wireless connectivity options that can be incorporated into a home theater system.

Sony STR-DN1080 Network Home Theater Receiver
Images provided by Sony

Wireless Speakers

Wireless surround sound speakers are popular speaker solutions for home entertainment systems, but don't let the term "wireless" fool you. Long wires that connect speakers to a stereo or home theater receiver may be eliminated in a wireless system, but you will still need to connect the "wireless" speaker to its own power source.

For a speaker to function it needs access to an audio signal in the form of electrical impulses, as well as a physical connection to a powered amplifier or outlet. In a home theater wireless speaker setup, a transmitter is physically connected to preamp outputs on a receiver or integrated into a central unit. The transmitter sends the sound information to a speaker that has a built-in receiver. However, to produce an audio signal that is wirelessly transmitted, the speaker needs additional power.

This means that the speaker has to be physically attached to a power source and an amplifier. The amplifier can be built into the speaker housing (powered speaker) or physically attached with speaker wire to an external amplifier with a powered wireless receiver.

Wireless surround sound speaker technology is employed in some all-in-one home-theater-in-a-box systems and soundbars with wireless surround speakers. There are several wireless home theater speaker systems available that not only include wireless surround speakers and a subwoofer but wireless speakers for the other channels as well.

The WISA (Wireless Speaker and Audio Association) coordinates the development and standardization of wireless speaker products and systems specifically for home theater applications.

Axiim Q HD 5.1
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Wireless Subwoofers

Subwoofers are typically self-powered and include an AC power connection. However, they are sometimes located far from the receiver they need to receive the audio signal from. For that reason, wireless subwoofers are increasingly common, especially for soundbar systems, where there are only two components: the sound bar and a separate subwoofer.

Just as with wireless surround speakers, the wireless subwoofer arrangement eliminates a long cable connection and provides more flexibility in placing the subwoofer, but both the soundbar and subwoofer still need to be plugged into a power outlet.

Klipsch R-10SWI Wireless Subwoofer with Transmitter
Klipsch

Bluetooth

With the advent of wireless technology for home entertainment systems, Bluetooth has become a leading standard for wireless sound connectivity. It is the main technology used to connect wireless speaker systems. More home theater receivers are now being equipped built-in Bluetooth or ports that will accept an accessory Bluetooth receiver. This allows you to access content wirelessly from a smartphone, tablet, computer, or other device.

Harmon Kardon BTA-10 and Logitech Bluetooth Audio Receivers
Harman Kardon and Logitech

Samsung and some other TV makers employ Bluetooth as a way to stream audio directly from select TVs to a compatible Samsung soundbar or audio system. Samsung refers to this as SoundShare. Other brands may use different names.

Wi-Fi and Wireless Networking

Wi-Fi can also be used to facilitate wireless speaker or home theater connections. Check out examples of many network media players/media streamers, Blu-ray Disc players, smart TVs, and Home Theater Receivers that incorporate Wi-Fi and wireless network connectivity.

Samsung UBD-K8500 – WiFi Connection Confirmed
Screenshot

Apple AirPlay

If you have an iPod, iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, you may be familiar with Apple's wireless streaming connection option: AirPlay and AirPlay 2. When AirPlay compatibility is integrated into a home theater receiver or TV, it can gain wireless access to content streamed or stored on connected iOS devices.

Miracast/Screen Mirroring

A variation of Wi-Fi known as Miracast (aka Screen Mirroring) is also common in home theater systems. Miracast is a point-to-point wireless transmission format that allows both audio and video content to be transferred between devices without the need to be near a Wi-Fi Access Point or router.  

Miracast allows you to mirror the contents of a smartphone, tablet, or PC display (including audio) onto a television screen.

Screen mirroring devices include select TVs, Blu-ray Disc players, and media streamers. If screen mirrored content is received by a compatible Blu-ray disc player or media streamer, it is relayed onto the TV using an HDMI or other compatible audio/video connection. 

Roku Screen Mirroring Example
Roku Screen Mirroring Example. Roku

Casting

Casting is similar to MiraCast/screen mirroring but with an important difference: After you send the audio or video from a smartphone or other compatible device to a compatible TV, the content will continue to play even if you do something else on our smartphone; you can even turn the device off and it will continue to play. 

The most common devices used to receive a smartphone or PC cast is the Google Chromecast or a TV with Chromecast Built-in.

Roku Screen Casting Example
Roku Screen Casting Example. Image provided by Roku

Wireless HDMI Connection Options

Another form of wireless connectivity is the transmission of high definition (HD) content from a source device, such as a Blu-ray Disc player to a TV or video projector.

This is accomplished by connecting an HDMI cable from the source device to an accessory transmission box. The box sends the signal wirelessly to a receiving box that, in turn, is connected to the TV or video projector using a short HDMI cable. Currently, there are two competing wireless HDMI camps, each supporting their own group of products: WHDI and Wireless HD (WiHD).

Iogear GWHDKIT11 Wireless HDMI Kit Setup
Iogear/Amazon

Powerline and HomePlug

Another ingenious technology that eliminates wired connections isn't truly wireless, but it utilizes your own house wiring to transfer audio, video, PC, and internet information through a house or office. These technologies are called Powerline and HomePlug. Using special converter modules that plug into your own AC wall outlets, you can access files that "ride" on top of your regular AC current and then convert to ethernet on either end.

TP-Link AV500 Powerline Adapter with AC Pass-Through Kit
Image via TP-Link

The Downside of Wireless Connectivity

Despite huge strides in wireless technology, sometimes a wired connection is best. When streaming video from Netflix or Hulu, for example, the W-Fi connection may not always be as stable or fast as a wired connection, resulting in buffering or intermittent dropouts.

If you experience this, first change the location or distance between your streaming device (smart TV, media streamer) and your internet router. If that doesn't solve the problem, then you may have to resort to that long ethernet cable you were trying to avoid.

Also keep in mind that Bluetooth and Miracast/screen mirroring work over short distances, which should be fine in an medium-sized room. If you find your wireless connection produces inconsistent results, you should still have the option of a wired connection between your devices.

The Final Verdict

The wireless home theater revolution continues to grow. Although new wireless platforms and products are being introduced all the time, so far there is no one "universal" wireless platform that can work with all product types, brands, and standards. So, as is the case with all technology, it's important to do some research to decide which wireless technology is best for you.