Television screens are getting bigger
and sexier, but the audio technology in
them seems to have stagnated. Connections haven’t changed other than an upgrade
to HDMI 2.0 for some. There is good
news however, with more mention of front-facing speakers instead of down facing,
and more manufacturers including multiple drivers instead of single small speakers.
|Philips’ Fidelio E5 is a 4.1 speaker
system, with Bluetooth and Near
If you happen to have incredibly deep
pockets, you can pick up the 105-inch LG
Ultra HD curved, 21:9 aspect ratio television
with 7.2 multichannel sound provided
by Harman Kardon. Then there is the Sharp Aquos Ultra HD with six front facing
speakers, including tweeters, midrange,
and dual subwoofers, all powered by an
underwhelming 35 Watts of power. Honestly,
it has to be hard to get decent sounding
speakers into a box as thin as television
displays have become, which may be why
LG is outfitting its Gallery OLED TVs with
something called a canvas speaker that delivers
2.2 channels of audio with 100 Watts
of power. The canvas speaker tech remains
totally mysterious and whether they sound good or are simply a tie-in to the Gallery
display name remains to be seen.
Fortunately, manufacturers have come
up with a solution to poor sounding televisions:
sound bars and sound stands. Reviews
for these speaker systems, which try to emulate
either front array or full surround imaging,
run the gamut from OK to really great.
Most television manufacturers had sound
bars on display, with the GoldenEar 3D Array
sound bar generating the most attention.
Sound bases, which are like sound bars but
are also a base for the television to sit on top
of, seem to be coming on strong this year,
with the Vizio Sound Stand, LG SoundPlate,
Samsung HW-H600 Sound Stand, and Sony
HT-XT1 Speaker Base among models announced
at the show.
Wireless technology was the real surprise
for me coming out of this year’s show.
Wireless HDMI seems to be on the immediate
horizon, but there were lots of wireless
audio products too. Philips was showing
the Fidelio E5 speaker system, oddly a 4.1
system, with Bluetooth and Near Field Communications. The subwoofer and surround
speakers connect to the left and right
speakers via Bluetooth and NFC is used to
connect tablets, smartphones, and other
compatible devices. Samsung expanded its
Shape series wireless speaker system, which
also uses Bluetooth and NFC technologies.
HD audio streaming over Wi-Fi is promised
as part of a wireless technology from Broadcom called Wireless Internet Connectivity
for Embedded Devices. WICED
actually uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC to
connect not just audio devices, but home
appliances, other electronics, and personal
wearable technology as well.
The truly interesting wireless audio products
were those using technology from
Wireless Speaker and Audio. The
system claims to be able to wirelessly transmit
7.1 channels of audio at up to 24-bit, 96
kHz, with 5 ms fixed latency, in all directions,
with less than 160 ns delay between speakers.
To help it stay free from interference
from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals, the technology
operates in the 5.2 to 5.8 GHz UNII
bands. Bang & Olufsen demonstrated its BeoLab
transmitters and receivers using WiSA
that wirelessly connects their televisions
and sound systems to their active speakers.
Since all technology demos need source material,
Sharp introduced their WiSA-enabled
SD-WH1000U Universal Disc Player, which
according to the manufacturer, “is the first
component to transmit uncompressed
sound at 24-bit/96kHz and video at Full HD
(1080p)—wirelessly.” In addition to B&O
and Sharp, WiSA has also signed on Onkyo,
Pioneer, Polk, Gibson, Klipsch and others
manufacturers to provide enabled devices.
If these technologies work as promised, and
if cost is kept under control, we may finally
have a solution to running speaker cables all
over the living room.
There were a few other tidbits from
the show that are worth mentioning here
because they’re all encouraging signs for
the television audio industry. First is that
headphones are back in a big way, with lots
of high-end models being released. Hopefully
this means that people are starting to
listen more critically and are caring more
about quality sound, but it certainly shows
that the personal audio market continues
to grow. Auro Technologies has announced
that its immersive surround format, Auro-
3D, is coming to the home with the introduction
of the Auro-3D ISSP 12.200D AV
Receiver. Sony introduced the PCM-D100
portable audio recorder, which records
in Direct Stream Digital format, and announced
plans to bring lots of high-resolution
audio products to the home.
Finally and surprisingly, Harmonic, in its
end-to-end 4K transmission demos, showed
that its system can handle 5.1 and 7.1, can
downmix those formats, and output a host
of audio codec formats including MPEG-1
L2, AAC-LC, and a couple of flavors of HEAAC.
I didn’t expect to see any successful
4K transmission demos anytime soon, so I
find this incredibly encouraging for the future
of 4K broadcast television.
Jay Yeary is a television audio engineer
who spends his days working for a large
media corporation. In past lives he has
worked as a live sound engineer, music
editor, and sound designer. He is thrilled
that high quality headphones are making
a comeback and plans to use this as
justification for his addiction to them. He
can be contacted through TV Technology
magazine or via Twitter at @TVTechJay.