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 by a wireless home network (Wi-Fi). But it can also mean more than that. Let's explore the different wireless connectivity options that can be incorporated into a home theater system.

Sony STR-DN1080 Network Home Theater Receiver
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. Still, you must connect the wireless speaker to a power source.

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

This means the speaker must be physically attached to a power source and an amplifier. The amplifier can be built into the speaker housing (a 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 home-theater-in-a-box systems and soundbars with wireless surround speakers. Several wireless home theater speaker systems include wireless surround speakers, a subwoofer, and wireless speakers for the other channels.

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
Amazon.com

Wireless Subwoofers

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

Like wireless surround speakers, the wireless subwoofer arrangement eliminates a long cable connection and provides flexibility in placing the subwoofer. Still, the soundbar and subwoofer 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 being equipped with built-in Bluetooth or ports that accept an accessory Bluetooth receiver. This allows you to access content wirelessly from a smartphone, tablet, computer, or another device.

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

Samsung and other TV makers employ Bluetooth to stream audio 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 facilitate wireless speaker or home theater connections. Check out examples of network media players and 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

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 gains wireless access to content streamed or stored on connected iOS devices.

Miracast and Screen Mirroring

A variation of Wi-Fi known as Miracast (also called screen mirroring) is common in home theater systems. Miracast is a point-to-point wireless transmission format that allows audio and video content to be transferred between devices without being near a Wi-Fi access point or router.

Miracast mirrors 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 to the TV using HDMI or a compatible audio/video connection. 

Roku Screen Mirroring Example
Roku

Casting

Casting is similar to Miracast and 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 continues to play even if you do something else on your smartphone. You can even turn off the device, and it continues to play.

The common devices used to receive a smartphone or PC cast are Google Chromecast or a TV with Chromecast built-in.

Roku Screen Casting Example
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. There are two competing wireless HDMI camps, each supporting their group of products: WHDI and Wireless HD (WiHD).

Iogear GWHDKIT11 Wireless HDMI Kit Setup
Iogear / Amazon

Powerline and HomePlug

Another technology that eliminates wired connections isn't truly wireless. Instead, it uses your 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 AC wall outlets, you can access files that ride on top of the regular AC current and then convert to Ethernet on either end.

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

The Downside of Wireless Connectivity

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

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

Also, Bluetooth and Miracast or screen mirroring work over short distances, which should be fine in a medium-sized room. If 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 introduced all the time, so far, there isn't a universal wireless platform that works with all product types, brands, and standards. So, do some research to decide which wireless technology is best for you.