In very recent years, the interest and enthusiasm in surround sound systems has burgeoned. In years gone by, the general public was quite happy to visit the cinema for a truly immersive and enthralling audio and visual movie or video experience, and still come home to a poor picture with a less than ideal sound system. With the recent, huge advances in both the picture and sound quality of home entertainment systems, people expect more from their home systems.
Modern storage methods, namely DVD and Blu-Ray, have meant that much more picture and sound information can be conveniently stored on a disc, and customers have realised that they too can have that ‘cinema experience’ in their own front rooms.
A major part of this revolution in home systems is the advent of home surround sound systems. Because ‘surround sound’ requires more speakers for directionality, this translates to having many more wires emerging from the main viewing area, an aspect that is not only unattractive and potentially more complicated, but also a potential safety risk. As a result, manufacturers have now begun to market systems that use wireless technology. As an added bonus, there is an increasing trend to allow remote connection of the user’s personal hi-fi gadgets via the industry-standard Bluetooth wireless system. Buyers of wireless home surround sound systems benefits from learning more about this new and exciting technology.
Advances from Mono to Stereo
Back in the 1970s and early ’80s, televisions and VHS recorders mainly played their sound back in mono, that is, single channel sound with no directional information whatsoever. At the time, customers were still enthralled at being able to record programs themselves to play back later. Video shops sprang up, renting videos of the latest releases, yet, the sound delivery remained mono. While this appeared revolutionary at the time, engineers and customers were aware of the yawning gap between the true cinema experience and watching a film in one’s own home by renting a movie from the local store.
In the late 1980s, more televisions and VHS videos began offering stereo, with the stereo speakers being placed within the television on either side of the screen. While an improvement, television speakers remained of poor quality, exacerbated by the fact that they were placed so close to the main viewing screen that any stray magnetism from the speakers could potentially alter the colours on the cathode ray tube screen. TV’s speakers were very small, with tiny magnets that would only allow speakers to play lower mid-range frequencies at best – certainly not the thumping bass that people relished at the cinema.
VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray and More
Continuing leaps in computer technology, combined with the leaps in format, from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray, meant that customers were starting to demand true high-fidelity sound, first from their televisions, but subsequently also from their computers.
Manufacturers responded by producing true surround sound systems for both televisions and personal computers, which by now were mostly flat-screen models, which do not suffer the magnetism problems associated with the old CRT (cathode ray tube) technology. Now, customers could an immersive audio experience in their very own homes.
What is Meant by Wireless
There are two basic types of wireless surround systems. One is a system featuring wireless speakers and the other featuring a wireless Bluetooth connection to an iPad or other Android device. Some of the more expensive systems offer both.
Wireless speakers are normally a proprietary radio system that automatically connects with the central controller, thus saving the mess, and often frustration, of having to run speaker wires throughout a room.
A wireless Bluetooth connection, on the other hand, is one where there are no wires between the music player and the main controller for the speakers. When a system is advertised as ‘Bluetooth Enabled’, this usually means that, with only minimal setup, the user can play their music and even stream videos from a laptop, iPad, Android tablet, or other Bluetooth-enabled device. Thus, a user, who is watching a video on a laptop in one room can walk to another that has a Bluetooth-enabled TV, switch it on and, within milliseconds, can continue watching the video on the TV.
While Bluetooth 3.0 was a vast improvement on version 2.1, allowing video streaming and other data-intensive operations, it suffered problems with signal degradation and the sudden ‘dropping’ of a stream. The 2011 release of Bluetooth 4.0 has promised to overcome this with increased range and greater signal integrity. Another feature of Bluetooth 4.0 is the ability to hook up devices merely by tapping them together, rather than the fiddly, often awkward setting of passwords and usernames.
Since the announcement of Bluetooth 4.0, virtually all new phones, notebooks, tablets, and laptops feature Bluetooth 4.0 as standard. It is worth checking one’s mobile device for this compatibility with any intended Bluetooth system purchase.
Wireless Surround Speakers
While customers do not typically object to having the rear of their entertainment systems full of cabling, because it is out of the way and mostly out of sight, having signal cables running down the length of the room in order to experience surround sound is far less desirable.
To meet this demand, some manufacturers now offer at least some of the speakers in a wireless format.. They still require a power source to connect, but the actual signal wiring is replaced by a normally proprietary, low-powered FM wireless system. This means that, while the front speakers typically need wiring for both signal and power, the rear ones need only a power cable and possibly cables from the rear unit to the speaker itself. This rear unit can be set somewhere inconspicuous, behind the main viewing arena. The initial setup of this arrangement is very straightforward, with manufacturers trying to make it as easy as possible for customers to be up and running within minutes of setup.
Wireless Surround Speakers for Computers
The same issue of multiple tangled cords that plagued entertainment systems have also been a challenge for personal computer owners. Manufacturers are now offering 2.1 and even 5.1 surround speaker systems for home computers to allow for a much more immersive experience when watching DVDs, Blu-Ray, and gaming. Some manufacturers have gone one stage further, offering wireless capability for front and rear speakers.
How to Buy Wireless Surround Sound Systems on eBay
Buying a wireless surround system on eBay reduces much of the confusion from the process. Be sure that the system you are looking to buy is either a Bluetooth wireless system, if you wish to connect your iPhone, Android device, or other gadget, or, that the system features wireless speakers.
Manufacturers and retailers quote power output of speakers in different ways and it is helpful to understand the difference when comparing apples to oranges. The ‘true’ output volume of a system is always measured in ‘RMS’ values. This is an industry standard measurement, so if a manufacturers says their system is 100 watts RMS, then that is exactly what it delivers.
It is a good idea to also check the THD, or total harmonic distortion levels. As a general rule of thumb, humans can hear distortion of between two and five per cent. If a manufacturer claims that their system provides 100 watts, but, in the fine print, they quote THD as being 10 per cent, that 10 per cent distortion is going to be annoyingly noticeable to the listener.
One caution: manufacturers sometimes quote output powers in terms of ‘PMPO’. This stands for ‘Peak Music Power Output’. This figure is not industry standard, and unscrupulous manufacturers sometimes inflate PMPO figures. A speaker advertised as ‘500 watts (PMPO)’, may be no more than five watts in RMS, and even then, that may well be at 20 percent distortion, so focus on the RMS and THD figures when comparing models.
With the recent leaps in sound and vision technology, users can now expect true cinema-quality sound from their home entertainment systems, sitting back with popcorn in hand, impressed by sound quality, depth, and precision, all from the comfort of their armchairs at home. Add to this the convenience of being able to now ‘broadcast’ from their Bluetooth-enabled mobile device to their home entertainment system, and no longer wrestle with irritating setups that required a significant investment of both time and effort.
Increasingly, manufacturers have listened to and responded to users who no longer want to tolerate vast, unsightly, confusing cabling systems that become a safety/tripping hazard and, instead, want almost immediate access from the moment the units are taken from their packaging. Units that offer true wireless operation, either wireless speakers, or wireless communication to other devices, to the delight of many, are becoming more and more ubiquitous. And, with the recent advent of Bluetooth 4.0, what was once the stuff of dreams, may now be realised.