Wires are a great medium for the most part. They provide solid, interference-free connections between today’s electronic devices. Different types of wires can carry analogue and digital signals, and of course electricity. Without wires, life would not be possible as we know it today.
As useful as they are, unfortunately wires are also unsightly and can get in our way. Sure a lot of the cables connecting your home theater don’t bother you because you can’t see them. The same goes for the cables at the back of your computer. It’s the cables that creep out to the front of the equipment that get in our way; such as cables that connect surround speakers or a computer or a gaming console to your home theater.
Thanks to recent advances in wireless technology we slowly have fewer cables to trip on. We also have fewer cables to hide. Based on the same technology as wireless computer networks (802.11b or 802.11g wireless protocols), innovative wireless audio video products are making their way into our homes. A large portion of these products are particularly useful since they help us eliminate some of the longest cable runs and allow us to connect devices in different rooms without having to run cables through walls. Other new wireless products are reinventing the way we think about home entertainment altogether.
Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting audio video wireless products available today.
“Television anywhere” – that’s what the guys at Sharp and Sony must have been thinking when they designed these portable television sets.
Sharp’s LC15L1US is a 15″ AQOUS LCD TV that can be enjoyed virtually anywhere in your house or in your backyard. All you have to do is connect a video source to one of the 3 RCA inputs (or 1 S-Video input) on the supplied transmitter, and it will wirelessly send your favorite TV show or DVD to the portable TV using the 802.11g wireless protocol. Sound comes from two built-in dome-shaped speakers. You can enjoy approximately three hours of viewing time from the unit’s rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The LC15L1US carries the same specifications as other AQOUS LCD televisions including a 430 cd/m2 brightness, 500:1 contrast ratio, 170 degree horizontal and vertical viewing angle, and a 60,000 hour lamp life. Its 4:3 aspect ratio screen is capable of displaying a maximum resolution of 640 by 480 pixels in 480p. The TV also features a top-mounted carry handle and a table stand that makes it easy to move and position anywhere. The Sharp LC15L1US retails for $2499.99 (MSRP).
Think that’s cool? Sony calls their portable LCD televisions LocationFree TVs and offers two different models – the LFX1 and the LFX5. The LFX1 features a 12″ screen while the LFX5 features a 7″ screen, both in 4:3 aspect ratios. Aside from allowing you to enjoy television programs or DVDs, both TVs can also access the internet and email from your computer. Additionally, LocationFree TVs can deliver your personal video content from the base station to your wireless LCD monitor via WiFi hotspots or internet hotspots at airports, universities and cafes. To top it all off, both units feature built-in TV tuners and touch screens; no remotes required here. The base stations are identical for both models and accept five different source inputs: 3 RCA, 1 S-Video and 1 VHF/UHF (cable television). Internet and email access is provided via an Ethernet cable that also plugs into the base station. An Ethernet port on the TV itself allows you to enjoy any of the sources connected to your base station from anywhere that has an internet connection, not just your home. The screen communicates with the base station using the 802.11g wireless protocol and utilizes dual band wireless connectivity (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) to ensure that other household appliances will not interfere with the system’s signals. With Sony’s LocationFree TVs you can catch that important live hockey game while you travel. Well you could anyway, if we had hockey. For now you might have to stick with Seinfeld reruns. The LFX1 retails for $2499.99 and the LFX5 retails for $1599.99.
Mounting a flat panel TV on a wall will give it a clean, modern look. Of course you’ll want to hide the cables running to your sources as well, which means you’ll have to run them through the wall. Running cables through walls is not easy. This is why, you can expect to see a lot more wireless flat panel TVs in the near future, available in all sizes. In fact, Samsung recently announced their first wireless display, the HP-P509 in the United States. The 50-inch giant connects wirelessly (via 802.11a) to a separate media box that houses digital and analog TV tuners as well as all the audio and video inputs. The suggested retail price for it is $13,000 US. Samsung could not tell us whether it will be available in the Canadian market.
Today, many of us have large collections of music, videos and movies on our computers. Playing songs through your tiny computer speakers just doesn’t cut it, and watching videos or movies on your computer monitor isn’t very comfortable. Now sure you could run a mini-stereo cable from your computer’s sound card to a radio or receiver in your home theater but chances are the cable would have to be 30 meters long and you’d have to run it through some walls. Getting video from your computer to your TV somewhere else in the house would be just as hard. Over the last year or so, a growing number of products were introduced that can stream (send) your digital media (music, video and even internet) from your computer to any stereo or television in your house wirelessly.
The Sound Blaster Wireless Music system gives you the freedom to play music files (mp3 and wma) from your computer on any stereo in your house. It accomplishes this by using your existing 802.11b or 802.11g wireless home network. Simply connect the Wireless Music receiver to the input on your stereo or home theater receiver using one of its two RCA or single digital outputs. The system comes with a remote control that features a large LCD screen that lets you view and choose songs and playlists without the need of a television like other similar systems. It will set you back about $239.
The Prismiq MediaPlayer takes your digital entertainment to a whole new level. It allows you to play audio and video files, view photos, stream internet radio, chat with friends and even browse the web from the comfort of your home entertainment centre. All you need to do is install the supplied software on your PC (the MediaPlayer will automatically connect to your existing wireless network) and then use the system’s remote to access your computer’s digital media. You can also connect the system to a wired network. The system supports file types including music files in mp3, wav and wma formats, video files in mpeg, avi, and motion-jpeg formats, and various digital photo formats. It’ll also let you listen to internet radio and commercial radio services, browse the web, display live, personalized news and information and instant message friends and family. Can you think of anything else you would want to bring from your computer to your home theater? Probably not. The price for the Prismiq MediaPlayer is $269. To make browsing the web and instant messaging practical, you’ll also need to purchase a separately sold wireless keyboard for $79. It’s truly an amazing product to add to your home theater especially if you have a high-definition display.
And if you still want more, take a look at Viewsonic’s Wireless Media Gateway and Adapters. The gateway is a media server that stores all of your digital media on its hard drive and streams it wirelessly to any adapter in your house via the 802.11b and 802.11g protocols. It can store all file types just like a conventional computer hard drive and stream music, video and picture files to the adapters connected to your home theater. It also acts as a wireless/wired network router that shares your internet connection with your home computer network, with a WAN port (that accepts your high speed internet) and four LAN ports (that connect to your computers). Two USB ports allow you to connect USB printers and external storage devices that can be used by any device connected to your home network. The Viewsonci adapter comes with a remote control for selecting and managing your music, movies and pictures stored in the gateway. It features video outputs including composite, S-Video and DVI. Audio outputs include stereo analog audio and coaxial S/PDIF. The gateway is available in an 80 GB version (WMG80) for $569 and a 120 GB version (WMG120) for $699. The WMA100 adapters retail for $449 each.
Kenwood has taken a different angle at wireless products. Their innovative RFU-6100 Wireless System for Surround Speakers lets you eliminate the long speaker wires going from your receiver to your surround speakers. It consists of a sender unit that connects to your home theater receiver, and a receiver unit that connects to your surround speakers. So you still have wires between your two surround speakers, but this way you don’t have to run them the length of your room. The receiver unit features a built-in digital amplifier (2 x 50 watts) so you can use any brand of speakers as your surrounds. Another advantage this system has over conventional wireless speakers is that you don’t have to plug each surround speaker into a power source or use batteries in it. The power comes from the receiver unit. The suggested retail price for the RFU-6100 is $449.
Microsoft has taken advantage of the 802.11b/g wireless protocol to create an Xbox wireless adapter that allows you to connect an Xbox console to your wireless home network. This means that you can play online games without having an Ethernet cable attached to your Xbox. The adapter can also be used to connect multiple Xbox wirelessly for multiplayer games within the same house. The Xbox Wireless Adapter MN-740 retails for $149.
Several other companies that make video game console controllers have also introduced wireless controllers available for the Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube.
There is no question about it – wireless technology will continue to play a major role in the convergence of electronic devices. It will enable us to connect devices previously not compatible with each other to communicate and it will eliminate the long cables that we would normally have to run between devices. It is also likely that new media, such as interactive web content designed specifically for the home theater, will surface once a larger number of home theaters are connected to the internet. High-speed internet in your home theater also opens a gateway for video-phone calling and conferencing. Imagine the possibilities.