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July 19, 2021
As wireless soundbars and accompanying speaker arrays become must-have devices for audiophile consumers, technology that enables robust, low-latency, and scalable audio transmission ensures a better end-user experience.
Stylish and user-friendly, soundbars have become an increasingly popular way for consumers to enjoy high-quality audio in their homes. These bar-shaped speakers are built to easily connect with televisions, computers, or other devices in order to stream and amplify audio. When paired with additional speakers and subwoofers, soundbars enable a true surround-sound experience.
Soundbars have become popular in large part because televisions have become increasingly thin, which means there simply isn’t room in their build to support high-quality speakers. At the same time, with the rise in online music and video, the demand for good audio quality remains high. Soundbars can also be considered part of the larger smart home ecosystem — in fact, some Bose and Sonos soundbars include Google voice assistant integration.
Thanks to these factors, the market for soundbars is on the rise. In 2019 the global soundbar market was valued at USD 4.8 billion and is expected to rise at a CAGR of 8.6 percent between 2020-2025, reaching as much as USD 7.7 billion by the end of that period. As more and more consumers choose soundbars for their homes, it’s likely that they will be increasingly choosy about the products they select, pushing developers to “raise the bar” on soundbar design.
When it comes to soundbars and their accompanying speaker arrays, consumers and product developers face a similar decision: wired or wireless? Cable data transmission is fast and high-quality, and some consumers do prefer hardwired surround-sound systems that may offer some additional customization, despite the extra cost. However, cables and wires limit consumer use-cases, aren’t aesthetically appealing, and reduce options for speaker placement and use.
Put simply, wireless soundbars offer more flexibility. They are easier to install, can be relocated as needed, and can even be set up to connect across multiple rooms. Many consumers prefer the sophisticated look of wireless speakers as well. The caveat, of course, is that older wireless technologies don’t match the sound quality of cabled speakers. But today, audio transmission protocols are much more advanced and offer a comparably high-quality sound experience with low latency. Developers who take advantage of these technologies can offer consumers a wireless product that doesn’t compromise on quality.
Latency is a key factor for high-end soundbars and speakers, and today’s consumers expect ultra-low latency. Audio lag negatively impacts listener experience — for instance, the image on the TV and the audio emerging from the soundbar might not align perfectly. There are other factors at play as well — for instance, without effective design, soundbar wireless signals could interfere with other signals in the area. But latency is the primary cause for concern for today’s audiophile consumers.
To achieve robust soundbar design, developers should take advantage of a recently developed and highly effective codec for audio transmission: the Low Complexity Communication Codec (LC3), as specified by the Bluetooth® Special Interest Group for the Bluetooth Low Energy Audio protocol, part of Bluetooth 5.2. LC3 is license-free only with Bluetooth LE Audio. This codec was launched in 2020 as an industry-leading open standard for both music streaming and voice transmission.
Compared to legacy codecs like Bluetooth SBC, LC3 is designed to reduce the required bit rate by about 50 percent while preserving more sound quality. In addition, it offers low energy consumption and low complexity. But its superset LC3plus, specified in ETSI TS 103634, is a step up, offering additional capabilities that allow for a more robust transmission, including advanced packet loss concealment.
Although both LC3 and LC3plus support sample rates between 8-48 kHz, as well as a data rate of 16-320 kbps per channel, LC3plus also includes a high-resolution audio mode that supports transmission for both 48 kHz and 96 kHz audio data at up to 500 kbps per channel, minimizing noise and making it appropriate for high-quality music. Notably, LC3plus goes beyond LC3 to offer low latency operational modes, including 5 ms or even 2.5 ms, compared with 7.5 ms for LC3.
Overall, for developers looking to develop top-notch soundbar technology, LC3plus is an advanced, open-standard audio codec that offers the low-latency and high-resolution transmission consumers demand. It can be used flexibly but does require an additional patent license for final products.
Audio device developers using a Telink system-on-a-chip (SoC) can take advantage of the LC3plus codec to ensure low latency and create robust audio functionality. Telink’s solution ensures low latency end-to-end, with latency under 20 ms including codec processing and RF transmitting and receiving. It also offers precise synchronization among multiple speakers, with a phase difference of <1 degree at 1 kHz. In addition, the SoC is built to achieve high channel bandwidth utilization and strong anti-interference capabilities.
Telink’s SoC offers a scalable architecture, appropriate for use-cases of a single soundbar connecting to up to five additional speakers. End-users can easily create a complete surround-sound experience — for instance, with one soundbar, two front speakers, two rear speakers, and one subwoofer.
For today’s soundbar and speaker developers, Telink’s SoC offers an unmatched opportunity to build products that offer consumers more.
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