Updated: March 11, 2013

Guide to
Home Theater Wireless Systems

Pros and Cons of Wireless Home Theater in-a-Box Solutions


Integrated Wireless Home Theater Systems—often referred to as 'wireless HTIBs', give you the possibility to avoid unsightly speaker wires running from the main system to the rear speakers at the back of the room.

Choice is still very much limited and some systems come as 'wireless ready' rather than 'wireless'; but luckily, more and more consumer electronics manufacturers are putting on the market home theater in-a-box solutions with integrated wireless speakers.

Discover more what your real options are in this short guide to home theater wireless systems. In the process we discuss the pros and cons of wired vs. wireless HTiB systems and also HTiB vs. separates.


 

The Home-Theater-in-a-Box Solution: Wired or Wireless?

Home Theater in-a-box systems are turning out to be more popular than ever, yet these systems are often associated with trailing cables across the room.

Surely, this applies to any multi-channel surround sound set-up irrespective of whether it is an HTiB solution or a 'separates' component-based setup. Yet the prospective HTiB owner is often less prepared than the home theater enthusiast who opts for a separates-based setup to face the challenges associated with hiding speaker cables. In particular, this applies to cables crossing the room from front to the back to reach the rear surrounds in a 5.1 setup and the back speakers in the case of a 7.1 speaker solution.

For this reason, rear speakers often find themselves incorrectly placed along the fronts, or even discarded altogether. In either case, one would be losing on that immersive sound field that proper speaker placement yields in a home theater sound system. Of course, you could always opt for one of the single speaker surround systems. These use either virtual surround sound algorithms as the Polk Audio SurroundBar IHT 6000 Instant Home Theater single speaker surround sound system (this comes complete with a powered wireless subwoofer), or use sound projection techniques as the Yamaha YSP-4100BL Digital Sound Projector to produce an immersive soundstage as further detailed on our site here.

But these often have a restricted listening zone and seldom deliver a truly convincing surround sound unless the room is perfectly rectangular and your listening position is at just the right spot.

Wouldn't therefore be nice if one could get real convincing surround sound without having to face the nightmare associated with running cables across the room to wire the rear and back speakers?

It is here that home theater wireless systems come into play; these can help reduce the cable clutter by unwiring the rear and back speakers in multi-channel audio systems.

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If you are planning to buy a new home-theater-in-a-box solution as a replacement to your older stereo system, or possibly as a new installation, then it is time to stop and think...

This is the right time to consider whether a home theater wireless system would represent a possible option to your needs.

It is true that as things stand today, home theater wireless systems almost always imply a wireless connection for the rear speakers but nothing more; all other channel speakers in a surround sound setup would still be wired.

But even this in itself represents a big improvement over a full wired setup, after all, the biggest obstacle many face when wiring multi-channel speaker systems are the rear speakers. Wireless speaker systems designed for use with rear surround channels may represent a cheaper alternative to in-wall wiring; this being especially so if you have to ask for professional assistance in this respect.

And if the wireless speakers option represents a convenient solution, then a fully integrated home theater wireless system with wireless rear-speakers is even better. Why?

An integrated wireless speaker solution will surely represent a cheaper and more convenient alternative than having to install a separate add-on unit in the form of a wireless speaker amplifier for your rear surround sound.

Integrated home theater wireless systems include a wireless setup for the rear surround channels. No wires crossing the room between the main HTiB receiver and the rear speakers. The only wired connections to your rear speakers are a power feed for the wireless receiver/amplifier, and the speaker cables between the rear speakers and the wireless receiver unit at the back of the room. Some systems even incorporate independent wireless receivers with an integrated amplifier for each of the rear speakers. While this brings about a higher price tag, it has the advantage of further reducing the cable clutter at the back of your entertainment room.

The main advantage of an integrated system is that wireless home theater in-a-box solutions would normally come with interesting control features for the rear channel that are well integrated within the overall system menu. In particular, integrated systems do a very good job in taking into account the additional delay on the rear channels introduced by the wireless setup, as well as the amplification level of the wireless receiver.

However... Wireless sound solutions tend to deliver a slightly lower quality sound in comparison to a wired sound solution. This was especially so with older integrated home theater wireless systems. Today's audio wireless systems generally support CD-quality sound.

But the superior performance of a wired system is inevitable due to the extra processing that the original audio signal has to go through in a wireless setup; this extra processing generally results in slightly lower signal-to-noise levels on the wireless channels.

But do not let this hold you back from opting for a home theater wireless system if this represents a possible alternative. As indicated earlier on, the only real wireless connection is that for the rear speakers.  In addition, the sound quality of the rear channels is not that critical for the overall sound performance in a surround sound setup.

Besides, home theater wireless systems have moved a long way in this respect, particularly those using 2.4/5.8GHz wireless technology. Audio quality with most home theater wireless systems from major brands is such that it would be extremely hard to notice any appreciable difference in quality between a wired and a wireless setup. In other words, you can expect to enjoy more than just decent sound quality and sufficient power levels for a mid-sized home theater.

Rather... The limitations associated with a home theater wireless system are not much related to the wireless feature itself but to it being a home-theater-in-a-box solution. The same limitations that apply to a standard HTiB apply also to any home theater wireless system that comes in an HTiB package.

So it is only logical to ask: An HTiB, or a component-based system?

Many expect that their new home theater in-a-box system would deliver the same high-end features and conveniences found on a 'separates' component-based solution. You will surely get more than just enough power and decent sound quality from an HTiB.

Polk Audio PSWi225 Wireless SubwooferAnd if your HTiB do not include an active sub-woofer as part of its speaker package, there is no reason why you cannot enhance your sound experience during movie watching by simply adding one. Relatively inexpensive powered wireless sub-woofers such as the Polk Audio PSWi225 can be easily integrated into an existing speaker system.

Furthermore, if you are after simple installation and ease of use, nothing beats an HTiB - and even more so a wireless home theater in-a-box system!

But there are quite a few limitations with respect to a separates-based system one should be well aware of prior to moving ahead with an HTiB solution. These limitations apply irrespective of whether you are looking for a home theater wireless system or a full wired solution.

Connectivity Support

Do not expect to get the same connectivity support as you would get with an AV receiver. In fact, one of the main limitations associated with an HTiB solution is that while these systems do support multiple audio inputs, and would probably include an HDMI output as well, they would hardly take any video input.

And if there is a video input, this would often support standard video only even if the HTiB includes a Blu-ray player or a DVD drive with full 1080p upscaling capabilities.

In other words, do not expect most HTiBs to enable you to switch between different video sources, e.g. cable or satellite TV set-top-box, games console, etc. For this purpose, you will need to use your HDTV or an external video switcher.

Similarly, while you will be able to connect various audio sources to an HTiB, it is very likely that your box-type home theater wireless system would not enable you to output line-level audio from any of its internal components - radio, CD/DVD, etc., should you require so to connect to an external device.

Lack of User Control

Another limitation associated with most home-theater-in-a-box solutions is the lack of user control both when choosing between the different surround sound modes and also when applying equalization.

Most often, these systems just support a few pre-set modes and the user can just cycle through these few pre-programmed options. Even the simple act of adjusting the treble or bass independently would turn out to be an unsupported feature in most home theater in-a-box solutions.

Manufactures would argue that HTiBs are designed with ease-of-use for the non-technical user in mind. It is true that an HTiB is not an AV receiver, so one cannot expect to enjoy the same level of conveniences and features as found on the more expensive component-based solutions.

At the same time, cutting on these conveniences when it comes to designing HTiBs is a way of lowering the costs to have an edge over the competition while making a product that would still appeal to most users.

Mind you, you would normally become aware of these limitations only if for some reason or another you are downsizing; in these circumstances, you will surely end up comparing the features on your older AV receiver with those present on your new home-theater-in-a-box system. Most probably, these limitations would not matter for anyone just starting in home theater with a limited budget. For the latter, ease of use and decent sound would often matter more than just having the trills and frills associated with an AV receiver.

And let's face it; with most of today box-type home theater wireless systems, you will get more than just decent sound. Rather sound quality is very good for their relatively affordable price tag, while ease of installation is always assured thanks to the included wireless rear speakers.

Home Theater Wireless Systems: It is more a matter of choice

Unfortunately, choice is still very much limited when it comes to home theater wireless systems—in particular if what you are after is an affordable solution that still provides good performance.

Furthermore, some systems come as 'wireless-ready' rather than 'wireless'; wireless-ready systems would require you to purchase a separate additional wireless module to remove those trailing cables to the rear speakers.

LG-BH6820SW 1000W 3D Blu-ray Home Theater System with Smart TV and Wireless Rear Speakers

LG BH6820SW 1000 3D Blu-ray
Home Theater System

Comes complete with LG Smart TV for unlimited TV content, silk -dome speaker technology for clearer sound, built-in Wi-Fi and integrated 2-channel wireless rear speakers

Wireless-ready systems are mainly designed to leave your future options open while minimizing initial costs. Whether it is worth moving in this direction depends on your requirements and available budget.

What is really important here is to check carefully the system description during your selection process to avoid unpleasant surprises later.

Instead, 'wireless' systems include all necessary hardware to setup a wireless connection between the main system and the rear speakers. Systems that come with fully integrated wireless rear speakers include the Sony BDV-HZ970W with its much-touted Sony's S-AIR wireless technology, the interesting LG BH6820SW 3D Blu-ray Home Theater System with LG Smart TV featured here, and the Samsung HT-E6500 3D Blu-ray disc player with Samsung Smart Hub.

These represent typical HTiB solutions presently available on the market with integrated wireless rear speakers. All three systems are readily available from amazon.






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 Article Content

Home Theater Wireless Systems Guide:

Blue bullet  The Home Theater in-a-box solution: Wired or Wireless? Discussing the advantageous and limitations of each

Blue bullet  An HTiB or a 'Component' based solution? Ease of use and affordability versus lack of user control and supported system connectivity

Blue bullet  Home Theater Wireless Systems: It is all a matter of choice: Wireless-ready versus wireless

Blue bullet  Buying Options for wireless speakers and wireless home theater systems

Wireless Speaker Systems: Guides & Reviews

Wireless speakers articles appearing under this section

Technology Guides:

Introduction to Wireless Speakers Systems

Installation Tips for Wireless add-on Speaker Systems

Guide to Wireless Media Players

Wireless Networking Basics

Wireless Security in Home Entertainment


Reviews for current and archived products:

Add-on wireless modules for Surround & Multi-room Audio

Sonos Music System for wireless multi-room audio streaming

SoundCast Wireless Systems for Surround Sound

Rocketfish Wireless HD Audio

Rocketfish RF-WHTIB Wireless Rear speaker Kit

Acoustic Research ARW20 Wireless Speaker Adaptor

Wireless HTiB: Sony vs. Panasonic

Best Wireless Media Players

Detailed index of articles and product reviews is available here.

Wireless Home Theater Systems

Featured wireless HTIB solutions at buy from amazon

Sony BDVN790W
Blu-ray HT System

1000 watt 5.1 sound, Wi-Fi, 3D Blu-ray Disc, BRAVIA Internet Video, wireless rear speakers, and HDMI repeater with 3D pass-thru for simplified HD audio and video transfer

 

Sony BDV-E780W
Blu-Ray Disc system supporting wireless streaming of music with compatible Sony network speakers

LG BH6820SW
1000W 3D Blu-ray Home Theater System with Smart TV and Wireless Rear Speakers