What Is Wireless Home Theater?

Wireless connection options in the home theater environment

A Wireless Home Theater or Entertainment system can refer to setup that simply has a set of wireless surround sound speakers to a system that incorporates wireless home networking.

However, there is a lot in between. Let's explore the 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

One type of wireless product available for home theater is wireless surround sound speakers. However, don't let the term "wireless" fool you.

For a speaker to function it needs two types of signals.

  1. The speaker needs to have access to the music or movie soundtrack in the form of electrical impulses (the audio signal).
  2. The speaker needs a physical connection to an amplifier to actually produce the sound (either powered by battery or AC power 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 music/movie soundtrack information to a speaker that has a built-in receiver. However, to produce the audio signal that is wirelessly transmitted so you can hear it, 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 that has a wireless receiver (or connected to one) that is powered by batteries or plugged into the house AC power source.

Long wires that typically connect to the speaker (s) from a stereo or home theater receiver are eliminated, but you still need to connect the "wireless" speaker to its own power source in order to produce sound.

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/audio systems available that not only include wireless surround speakers and subwoofer but wireless speakers for the other channels as well.

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

Although full wireless speaker systems suitable for home theater applications are few, one practical wireless home theater solution is the wireless powered subwoofer.

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. Being able to incorporate a wireless transmitter for the subwoofer that can be connected to a receiver's subwoofer output and a wireless receiver connected or built into the subwoofer is a very practical idea.

This is common with soundbar systems, where there are only two components: The sound bar and a separate subwoofer. However, just as with wireless surround speakers, the wireless subwoofer arrangement eliminates a long cable connection, and allows more flexible room placement of the subwoofer, both the soundbar and subwoofer still need to be plugged into an AC wall outlet or power strip.

Klipsch R-10SWI Wireless Subwoofer with Transmitter
Klipsch

Bluetooth

Bluetooth technology has impacted the way consumers connect portable devices, such as headsets for cell phones. However, with the advent of wireless technology for home entertainment, Bluetooth is also a method for wireless connectivity in home theater systems.

For instance, in the previous section on wireless subwoofers, Bluetooth is the main technology employed. Also, more home theater receivers are now being equipped built-in Bluetooth or ports that will accept an accessory Bluetooth receiver that allows consumers to access audio/video content wirelessly from a smartphone, portable digital audio/video players, or even a PC.

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 Sound Bar or audio system. Samsung refers to this as SoundShare. Other brands may use different names.

Wi-Fi and Wireless Networking

Another type of wireless connectivity that is becoming more popular in the home is wireless networking (based on Wi-Fi technology). This enables consumers to use their laptop PC anywhere in the house or even outside without having to use a phone cord or Ethernet cord to connect to the internet or another PC-related device in the house.

This is done by having a wireless transmitter/receiver built into the laptop, or other devices, communicate with a central router that may have a combination of both wireless and wired connections. The result is that any of the devices connected to the router can access the internet directly or communicate with the other devices connected to the router.

One common protocol used for file transfer between devices and playing audio/video content from a source to TV or another compatible device over a network is DLNA.

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 are familiar with Apple's wireless streaming connection option: AirPlay and AirPlay 2. When AirPlay compatibility is integrated into a home theater receiver or a select TV, it can gain wireless access to content streamed or stored on iOS devices.

Miracast/Screen Mirroring

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

Miracast/Screen Mirroring allows you to mirror the video on a smartphone or PC screen to display on a TV. The audio is also sent. 

Screen mirroring receiving 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 on to 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 where it differs is after you send the audio and 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 or even turn it off. 

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 content from a source device, such as 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 that 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 actually isn't truly wireless but 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, the consumer can access audio/video files that "ride" on top of your regular AC current and then converted to ethernet on either end.

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

The Downside of Wireless Connectivity

Although strides are definitely being made in wireless connectivity for the home theater environment, it must be pointed out that sometimes a wired connection option is best.

For example, when streaming video from content sources, such as Netflix, Vudu, etc... W-Fi might not always be stable or as fast as a wired connection, resulting in buffering intermittent dropouts.

If you experience this, first change the location and/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 average size 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/home entertainment revolution continues to grow. Although new wireless platforms and products for use in the home theater/home entertainment environment are being introduced on a continuing basis, so far there is no one wireless "universal" platform that can do it all and work with all product types, brands, and products. So, as is the case with all technology, it's important to do some research to decide which wireless technology is best for you.