The State of the (Wireless) Home Theater Comeback
It’s no secret soundbars have dominated the home theater space in recent years, leaving only a niche for complex, passive home theater systems. While soundbars allow for additional rear channels to be added and the TV sound experience to be elevated in many locations, they don’t present the same levels of power and definition as a system comprised of component speakers.
Fortunately, we are entering a new era in the world of high-definition home theater. Statistics show the time is now for a resurgence in surround sound systems. The content available to consumers is ready, and the production values of audio and video for TV, music, and movies are already great and continually getting better. However, for the venture to be successful, the installation and control experience needs to be extremely simple for consumers. Simply put, it needs to be free of wires.
Today, the consumer electronics industry has access to innovative technology that improves the home theater experience by standardizing and promoting quality wireless audio while assuring interoperability. As with most new technologies, there has been a period of investigation, testing, and integration into the roadmaps of many brands and manufacturers. Numerous brands, including Bang & Olufsen, Klipsch, Enclave and Axiim, have proven to be early adopters and brought high-performance systems to market that have been well received. Additionally, several key retailers are now allocating precious floor space to wireless home theater solutions. These are all great signs for the future of wireless home theater, but heightened adoption and implementation across the industry is necessary for the resurgence of true home theater.
The next leap forward is underway as we see more speaker brands creating assortments of products, as well as "source" brands like TV and gaming systems manufacturers incorporating the transmission of wireless home theater audio. As more momentum builds, it will only get easier for consumer electronics retailers to sell sources and speakers that provide consumers a wireless and interoperable home theater system offering the right components for an assortment of budgets and needs. This is somewhat of a natural progression as more systems are displayed and demonstrated at key retailers, but the industry’s influencers should be committed to accelerating the process by effectively communicating the benefits of interoperable, high definition, wireless home theater.
To reach maximum potential in the wireless home theater category, it is critical for all audio brands to capitalize on the huge opportunity multi-channel content provides by delivering powered wireless solutions. Additionally, it is important these brands take advantage of the performance benefits provided by a well-designed powered speaker versus a passive speaker that is subject to connection to unknown electronics.
Retailers will also play a pivotal role in mass adoption given the significant power and influence they have to reinvent the home theater category through the convenience of wireless audio. Content providers, producers, networks, and any other parties involved in the creation and distribution of quality multi-channel content, also need to be talking about how much better the experience is with a great surround sound system rather than a TV audio experience or the minor upgrade from a sound bar.
In the current landscape, simplicity is common and therefore expected, but the majority of home theater systems require a myriad of wires and are often complicated to connect and install. Together, speaker manufacturers and retailers sit at a crossroads holding vast potential to create an extremely simple yet exceptional home theater experience that is uncompromising of performance.
Tony Ostrom is president of the Wireless Speaker & Audio (WiSA) Association, an industry group dedicated to bringing the industry’s only fully interoperable, high resolution, multi-channel wireless audio capability to consumer and professional products. His 25-year career in the consumer electronics industry has been focused on product planning and development, consumer research, go-to-market planning, technology integration, marketing and training.