New Wireless Audio Standard is Coming
Better wireless audio, means easier home integration.
December 15, 2011 by Julie Jacobson

Wireless “standards” abound for home automation, PC peripherals, video and more … so why not wireless audio? A new organization called WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) hopes to propagate a standard for wireless 7.1 surround sound. It is being driven by HDMI developer Silicon Image along with Summit Wireless, developer of the wireless audio technology on which the WiSA “standard” is based.

“I think it’s an industry first,” says Jim Venable, senior director of standards for Silicon Image and president of the WiSA Association, in an interview with CE Pro. “I think it will be a big boost in the growth of quality wireless audio.”

That would be nice, considering the 100 million homes or so that are not prewired for surround.

Silicon Image, which recently acquired wireless HD video developer SiBeam, is managing WiSA under the newly formed WiSA, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Silicon Image, Inc.

Wearing his SI hat for a moment, Venable says that the initiative fits with SI’s “strategy and core competency.”

He says, “Being able to be involved in an association that ensures delivery of high-definition audio content in home fits nicely with their [SI’s] strategy going forward. It’s becoming wireless world, whether we like it or not.”

WiSA is based on technology from Summit Semiconductor, a spinoff Focus Enhancements. Via its Summit Wireless division, the organization offers a wireless surround sound platform that is highly regarded but not widely adopted, despite three years of trying. To date it appears only one manufacturer, Aperion Audio, has implemented Summit in its wireless speakers.

Summit utilizes the 5 GHz Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) frequency band – a relatively uncrowded space used mostly by government for radars. Using that space frees WiSA from interference by other wireless technologies like 802.11a.

Venable says we won’t see interference in the 5 GHz UNII band anytime soon.

“It’s not that simple” to implement, he says.

Wireless Surround Sound Roadblocks

There have been several wireless surround-sound products and technologies demonstrated over the past few years – even by most major CE brands – but few have shipped in any volume.

Summit’s technology in the past has been reserved for the high end, but the company is coming out with a new chipset that is 60 percent less expensive and smaller, according to spokesperson Linda Ferguson.

“The price point has come down, but obviously it depends on which parts [of the Summit technology] they [manufacturers] want to use,” she says.

It is the high price of high-quality wireless that has kept at least one WiSA Advisory Board member from implementing such technology in the past.

“The cost of a good system has been really high,” says Stu Lumden, VP engineering for Polk Audio (part of DEI Holdings, which also includes Definitive Technology). “We’re a loudspeaker company. There are electronics now in some of our speakers as a necessity, but the most important thing to us is the loudspeaker. That’s the thing we add value to.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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