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The Growing Need for Ultra-low Latency Headsets and TWS Earbuds

Telink Staff

August 31, 2021

Applications

Wireless headset

The gaming industry is seeing massive growth. With that comes an equally growing need for ultra-low latency wireless headsets to facilitate a seamless gaming experience.

According to the newest Global Wireless Gaming Headset Market report, the wireless gaming headset market is expected to grow by almost $1 billion by 2024, expanding at a CAGR of over 13 percent. 

Advances in audio technology, along with increasing demand from a rapidly growing esports industry, are together driving market growth for wireless gaming headsets. Although esports have been around for years, they recently spiked in popularity during COVID-19 quarantines. Now estimated to be worth in the ballpark of $1.8 billion, this giant industry is attracting the largest audience on the planet, with the number of esport pro athletes growing more than 40 percent annually every year since 1998 and an estimated eight million people logging on every day to participate.

Esports have gained traction partly because of the social component of live-streaming and gaming tournaments, as seen on gaming-specific streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming. As a result, complex soundtracks, audio-immersion features, and context-supporting sound effects have driven the demand for advanced headsets — particularly wireless gaming headsets and true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds. By eliminating wire limitations, these advanced gaming headsets offer improved mobility with surround sound experience and better gameplay for gamers. 

Today, the market demand is high for high-quality wireless gaming headsets and TWS earbuds. Below, we discuss the importance of ultra-low latency for gamers, achieving that ultra-low latency via Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE), and how Telink’s chip sets an industry standard for low latency. 

Ultra-Low Latency Making a Difference for Gamers

Low latency is crucial to gaming success. The lower the latency, the lower the chance of a connection loss or a delay (also known as a lag). In gaming, a delayed move — even by a millisecond — can mean instant “death.”

Games are so fast-paced nowadays that any lag between command and response can greatly affect the outcome. Audio is no different — a lag in audio can immediately put a player at a disadvantage. Fortunately, the advancement of audio technology has enabled ultra-low latency audio to make a difference for gamers. Wireless gaming headsets with ultra-low latency also offer excellent battery life and audio broadcasting capabilities to support intrateam communication. Combined with monitors that are at least 120 Hz and PC accessories like controllers, mice, and keyboards with low input delays, gamers are finding ultra-low latency advantageous to not only their gaming experience but also the enjoyment of audience members watching along via livestreams.

Achieving Low Latency Design for Wireless Headsets and TWS Earbuds 

Bluetooth has been a cornerstone of the wireless audio market for years, and Bluetooth LE Audio in particular is built to offer ultra-low latency for audio functions. In fact, the theoretical latency with LE Audio can be as low as just 20 ms. The actual latency is expected to be between 30-40 ms when we take into consideration re-transmission and other processing delays. For reference, a range of 20 ms to 40 ms is considered optimal when it comes to online games. 

However, there is no platform device at the moment that supports LE Audio. Before LE Audio becomes widely available, developers have the chance to design effective wireless gaming headsets based on proprietary solutions to achieve a latency of 20 ms or even lower.

Using a 2.4 GHz proprietary protocol over Bluetooth Classic, which has a long latency, would be ideal in this case. A proprietary protocol enables a simple way to connect PC and mobile peripherals easily, reliably, and at a low cost. It’s also fast to market and customizable, allowing developers to create optimized protocol stacks for custom applications. While proprietary protocol and Bluetooth share the same 2.4 GHz frequency band, the former stands out with its low-latency, high-quality audio along with strong battery life. The Telink 2.4 GHz proprietary solution can actually be software-upgraded to support Bluetooth LE audio in the future, providing customers with even greater flexibility.

Developers can also take advantage of another highly effective codec, the Low Complexity Communication Codec (LC3), as specified by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group for Bluetooth LE Audio. The superset, LC3plus, is an advanced version that can operate at low latency operational modes, including 5 ms or even 2.5 ms (compared with 7.5 for LC3). LC3plus is an excellent standardized solution for low-delay, high-resolution sound over wireless accessories. 

Setting an Industry Standard for Low Latency

Audio device developers using a single Telink TLSR9 chip can incorporate the above technologies to ensure a low-latency and widely compatible (by updating the firmware to support LE Audio in the future) design. In using Telink’s chip, audio device developers can keep up with the advancing audio technologies that are required to satisfy the growing demand for ultra-low latency headsets and TWS earbuds.

For more information, please visit the Telink Wiki or visit the Telink Forum for technical support.