Special Features

Summit Multichannel Hi-Res Wireless Surround

A promising re-thinking of some of the challenges of home theater audio setup.

Published on July 14, 2009

Summit Multichannel Hi-Res Wireless Surround
Summit Multichannel Hi-Res Wireless Surround

Focus Enhancements, Inc – Semiconductor Division
Address: 22867 NW Bennett Street, Suite 200
Hillsboro, Oregon 97124 USA
Email: info@focussemi.com
Website: www.focussemi.com
Tel: 503-615-7700

Most readers of Audiophile Audition will be familiar with the tremendous increase in complexity of setup and operation that has occurred as home electronics has moved from the simple stereo audio system to multichannel audio and video. Many purchasers of their first home theater system find themselves stuck between incomprehensible user manuals, a rat’s nest of cabling, and control options they don’t understand and the unaffordable option of hiring an expensive home installation expert to set up their system.  Running cables to each of the speakers is one of the most time-consuming tasks in setting up a system, and why many users simply don’t bother with surround sound for their home theater system. If the wires aren’t properly labelled, speakers can be out of polarity with one another, compromising the resultant sound. Then there is the challenge of proper adjustment of the volume and delay of each speaker in a HT setup.  Many rooms greatly constrain surround speaker setup, and the added two channels of 7.1 contribute to the confusion. Fidelity and interference problems have plagued most wireless speaker approaches. Many AV receivers and preamps now come with so-called automatic calibration technology, but it is a complex process and doesn’t always work.

A company active in Oregon and California hopes to remedy that situation with new technology incorporated in their Summit IC chip. Focus Enhancements, Inc. designs world-class solutions in advanced video and audio technologies. Their semiconductor division develops application-specific products to address the audio distribution and TV-out video encoder markets. They also market ICs for the portable media, navigation systems, and smartphone markets.

The Focus Enhancements Summit Chip (FS848) was demonstrated recently in New York City and also at the January Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It allows for the transmission of 48K/24 bit DVD-quality audio wirelessly to up to 7.1 speakers in a home theater or a PS3 gaming platform. Using Summit’s SpeakerFinder technology, the location of each speaker is found at power-up, and each one is assigned to the proper channel, while MyZone technology optimize the sound in less than a second to deliver the optimum sonics to a “sweet spot” almost anywhere in the room.

Tony Parker, VP of Marketing for the semiconductor division, says that they concentrated their efforts on three key issues that face both wired and wireless home theater system today – ease of setup, signal reliability, and system fidelity. He said, “Our goal for Summit was to enable consumers to set up and optimize their home theater audio in less than 30 minutes, while providing a robust wireless link that meets or exceeds wired performance and fidelity.”

The demonstrations used a Summit master module which transmits to speakers which have embedded Summit slave modules and class D amps.  Speakers from NHT, JBL and Boston Acoustics have been so modified and used, and Boston Acoustics’ general manager indicated that they are looking toward a possible future Boston product incorporating Focus Enhancements’ unique wireless technology.

Some of the technical details of the Summit approach: It uses the newly-opened 5 GHz U-NII wireless band that is relatively free of congestion, rather than the much-used 2.4 GHz band that competes with many common devices. The 5 GHz band extends from 5.1 to 5.7 GHz – avoiding interference from cordless phones, headsets and other devices in the crowded 5.8 GHz space. The band has up to 23 non-overlapping channels for much flexibility in choosing free space. It is designed to hop frequencies on a per-packet basis. Instead of compressing the audio (as in MP3 files) or using standard CD-level 16-bit data, Summit supports 24-bit/48K uncompressed audio, resulting in no loss of fidelity due to wireless transmission.  Whereas competing solutions lose end-to-end latency by resending lost data, thus causing lip-sync issues, Summit has Forward Error Correction and other techniques to reduce resending, and its low latency produces no discernible lip-sync issues. The chip has power agility, enabling it to transmit at the lowest useful power level to be a “good citizen” to nearby devices. Summit wireless audio is designed to deliver unaltered audio data to the speakers with the reliability and robustness of a wire system.

Summit’s MyZone solution builds on SpeakerFinder to incorporate the actual seat of the listener into the room-mapping process. This is required because SpeakerFinder assumes the position of the typical listener to be at the center of the surround speaker network, with all the speakers the same distance away. With MyZone, an additional ultrasonic transducer is added to the system’s remote control. The listener holds the MyZone-enabled remote at ear height and puses the MyZone button at his or her desired seat – no matter how far to one side or the other in the room. The ultrasonic transducer chirps, and all the transducers in the speaker network listen and report back to the master module the exact time they heard the chirp. The master then calculates the listener’s position in space relative to the center speaker to within + or – 1 cm. The actual position of the listener is then stored as an update to the previously-stored location in the room-mapping equation. The system is auto-calibrated to the MyZone location at each power-up until a new location is set up. If any speaker is moved after setting MyZone, the volume and phase for the speaker network is again automatically recalibrated to center the sweet spot at the programmed MyZone location. The correct audio delay is precisely calibrated for each speaker so that its sound arrives simultaneously at the listener’s MyZone location. In AV receivers with sophisticated audio decoders, this speaker location data can be sent from the Summit master module to the audio decoder DSP in the receiver, and it can provide the volume and delay adjustments based on its own algorithms. The delays of up to 40 ms are sufficient to compensate for a room as large as 30’ by 30.’  Using MyZone, a listener can first set the sweet spot to be at his favorite recliner to listen to music, and then later easily reset it to the sofa for a family movie night – just by pushing a button.

I attended a personal demonstration of the Summit chip at Focus Enhancements’ Hillsboro, OR offices and was impressed with their well-thought-out approach and the versatility of the technology. It sounded great in the demo with slaved small NHT speakers. The developers say they hope to eventually be able to offer 96K/24-bit wireless which would really appeal to our hi-res readers — whether staunch two-channel advocates or into surround.

Focus Enhancements hopes to have their Summit chip become a part of many AV receivers and preamps, DVD and Blu-ray players, speakers, game platforms and TVs. They have already teamed up with ANAM Electronics Co., a global ODM firm based in South Korea that specializes in the design and manufacture of AV and medical equipment. They will incorporate the Summit FS848 IC into AV receivers, to offer the first true hi-res wireless audio surround system.  Efforts are being made to have Summit’s re-thinking of home audio delivery be made a part of many other manufacturers’ home entertainment products.

 – John Sunier

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