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What's to Hate About Wireless Surround?

written by: •edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 5/20/2011

Getting wireless surround seems a no brainer - tossing out all those wires that can trip or snag your feet as they wind their way to surround speakers. But if the whole idea behind wireless surround is to enjoy what you're hearing then why do you have to spend so much time trying to get it to work?

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    Wireless Surround Works

    The whole idea behind wireless surround makes sense - eliminate the wires that normally have to go from the amplifier or home theater component over to the surround speakers. By losing the wires, the decor of the room is maintained as well as safety issues with children and pets no longer being a part of the mix. Of course the best part is that there is no longer a reason NOT to have surround speakers in place. So audio goes from being merely enjoyable to exciting now that multichannel sound is kicking in.

    The only problem in all of this is that the technology that delivers the wireless surround is far from perfect. Not that it's the fault of the technology per se, it's just that the normal home theater environment is heavy with all the kinds of pitfalls that make it difficult for the wireless surround to function at its best (or, as is the case sometimes, at all). Knowing what these problems are can help in keeping the wireless surround sound flowing into your ears, most, if not all of the time. Keeping you in your seat enjoying what you're watching rather than getting up to try and fix it when someone notices that the surround has been "lost."

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    RF Interference

    KEF Wireless - Gloss Black Kit for KHT5005.2 - KHT5005.2W Radio Frequency interference (RF) exists all around us. It did long before we had iPhones and home networks. Proximity to an electrical tower or power transformer isn't something that you can do much about - and today you have to add cell towers and home security setups from the neighbors into the mix. Inside there's the microwave and cordless phone and cell phones and wireless home networks to worry about. Sheesh just worrying about all of this stuff could give you a panic attack.

    Common sense provides the best solutions here in that you must try and keep the wireless surround transmitter and receiver away from these potential problem sources. So not putting the transmitter next to your microwave might seem obvious, but what about having it right next to the cordless phone? Or the wireless network router delivering your home network?

    That goes for having a cell phone in your pocket while you're sitting next to one of the surround speakers. Or even using your laptop to access the network while the movie is playing. Don't do this - concentrate on one thing - watching - and leave out the multitasking for another time.

    Think of all the wireless surround devices as oil and all of the rest of these as water and be sure not to mix them.

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    AC Power Interference

    The AC socket providing power to the transmitter and receiver for the wireless surround is far from pristine. In fact, according to recent reports, the amount of interference inherent in the AC line has increased from just 10 years ago. Short of installing new power lines and going to the local transformer and kicking it till the buzzing stops (or it blows up in your face), the only alternative is to make sure that the wireless surround devices - if not ALL of your consumer electronics - are connected to power strips/supplies that are designed to shield from electrical interference by filtering it out. That you should have surge protectors and even uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) on your consumer devices isn't for this feature - but since it was mentioned, yes you should have this too.

    By filtering out the electrical interference, there's less chance of it interrupting the signal by adding hash and noise to the transmission and reception of the wireless surround signal.

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    Don't Distance Yourself from Surround

    Generally speaking, wireless speakers should be placed to the side of the listener's position and at about their ear level if not slightly above that point. Distance can affect the strength of the wireless signal being transmitted to the receiver and so should be kept as short as humanly possible. While this shouldn't present an issue in the normal bedroom or den, having the wireless surround in a living room could result in placing the surround speakers fairly far back in order to meet the requirements of the room. If the speakers can't be moved closer, one solution to shorten the transmission distance might be to physically move the transmitter so that it's closer to the receiver rather than sitting amidst the home theater.

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    Wireless Surround is Worth It

    Sony BRAVIA DAV-HDX267W Theater System with Wireless Speaker Kit You might think from all this that wireless surround is too much trouble and so not worth the effort to have. But since everyone's home theater is as different as their environment, it's worth considering what the problems are in order to be able to accommodate surround. Let's face it having surround sound is great and shouldn't be missed just because it can be a challenge to make it work correctly.