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Latest Tech Trends in Home Theatres and Surround Sound

7/10/2011 11:30:49 AM

You might think home theatre is a rather stagnant sector, with its big speakers, big subwoofers and sound standards that don’t seem to change.

You might think home theatre is a rather stagnant sector, with its big speakers, big subwoofers and sound standards that don’t seem to change. But that’s actually far from the truth. From 3D sound schemes to soundbars cramming an entire home theatre’s worth of sound into a 125 CM tall contraption to wireless surround speakers and subwoofers, the home theatre industry is evolving right before our ears. 


Introducing the Soundbar

When Yamaha first introduced the soundbar back in 2005, they were counting on those who either didn’t have the room for or didn’t want to deal with large bundles of wires to drive its adoption. Well, they may have gotten more than they bargained for. Adoption has been widespread, and every other home theatre equipment manufacturer has gotten in on the action. Now, you can find soundbars costing anywhere from $400 to $4,000. Yes, that’s right, you can pay more for a soundbar than you would for a mid to upper range home theatre system, though we suspect you’d really have to hate wires to justify that. 

So what is a soundbar? It’s a collection of drivers and tweeters set in a cabinet and angled such that their sound bounces off your walls in such a way as to create a surround effect. Most include a wireless powered subwoofer, and some include wireless surround speakers. Many don’t include HDMI inputs, while some include a slimline Blu-ray or DVD player. There’s certainly plenty to choose from in the soundbar arena, and it’s likely to become even more crowded in the future.

People in apartments, dorm rooms and anywhere else wires are impractical or a nuisance will love the sheer simplicity of a soundbar, while audiophiles will heap criticism upon these systems as a baby step above a micro HiFi system. Either way, they’re here to stay and seem poised to bring an approximation of home theatre to an even wider market segment.


Wireless Thunder

Are we having a storm? No, that’s just my wireless subwoofer. With an increasing number of systems featuring this new technology, that could very well be a conversation taking place around Australia now and in the future. Wireless capability also extends to the surround speakers of many home theatre systems. This minimizes both setup time and wiring, while not adversely affecting the audio quality too badly.

Wireless speakers aren’t going to be as crystal clear as the wired variety. The fact that they receive an RF signal practically guarantees that. However, unless you’re right next to the speaker, which you shouldn’t be in an ideal setup, you won’t notice much difference. The surround speakers are generally not called upon all the time, and when they are, their duties are usually relatively light, making them ideal candidates for the wireless revolution.

Subwoofers are even better suited to go wireless. Since they deal with low frequencies only, and there’s a filter that blocks the higher frequencies from being played by the sub, it will be quite difficult to tell a wireless subwoofer from a wired one in terms of background hiss. Theoretically, a wireless sub should be able to give you performance virtually identical to the wired variety.


There’s a Dinosaur in My Living Room

No, we’re not talking about subwoofers, but 3-D sound effects. A number of consumer home theatre systems are introducing proprietary technologies which attempt to place sound around you both horizontally and vertically. These systems are still in their infancy and haven’t quite caught on yet. But, home theatre being what it is, the next big thing is probably right around the corner.


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