It has already been a great year for home cinema fans. Jump on over to the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 best TV winners list and you’ll see why.
Not only have we seen a new grudge match between Samsung and LG for the future of OLED, with both debuting new second-generation QD-OLED and Micro Lens Array (MLA) screen tech, but we’ve also had the pleasure of reviewing some amazing sets. Highlights include the Sony A80L and LG G3, which both earned five-star scores.
However, while I’m excited about the future of TVs, with other interesting sets including the Philips OLED908, Sony A95L and Panasonic MZ2000 still in the pipeline for the What Hi-Fi? review treatment, there’s one small trend I’m less excited about – wireless.
Wireless isn’t anything new in the world of home cinema. Despite my and the team’s love of physical media, we’ve accepted streaming is here to stay. Instead, what I’m talking about here is the influx of new home cinema tech aiming to completely remove wires from the equation.
The first sign of this appeared at the CES tradeshow in Las Vegas at the start of January when US startup company Displace unveiled a concept wireless TV. When I say wireless, I mean wireless; no ports, no cables. Even power was handled wirelessly via rechargeable batteries.
Interesting? Sure. Practical? Fudge no.
Putting aside the fact the quoted six-hour battery life would only get you two-thirds of the way through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or about halfway through a modern Scorsese, the big issue was that it didn’t even work when the company tried to demo it at the show.
By the time our intrepid managing editor, Becky Roberts, tried to book a demo, the company had given up after the pre-production concept it was showing had given up the ghost.
Normally, it would be easy to dismiss this as a random fluke at CES, where weird concepts are a pretty common phenomenon – does anyone remember the haptic feedback TV panel concept from many moons ago?
But the problem is, since then I’ve seen several more established companies jump on the “no cables” home cinema trend. On the TV front, we have the LG M3. Our staff writer, Lewis Empson, had a very brief demo of this at IFA in Berlin in September. It’s being marketed by LG as “the world’s first wireless OLED” and on paper it's interesting. It features the max-brightness boosting MLA tech seen on the LG G3, Panasonic MZ2000, and Philips OLED908, but comes with an atypical wireless design.
The design is the big marketing point. It effectively replaces all the standard ports with a “Zero Connect box”. This is a wireless box that uses a custom “Zero Connect” wireless technology to transmit audio and pictures to the TV from connected sources. Effectively that means you connect any boxes, consoles, or audio hardware to the box and then stream it to the TV without a direct cabled connection. The box itself features three HDMI 2.1 ports (one of which is eARC), two USB ports, and an optical port.
Questions about latency aside, which Lewis noted in his hands-on, I don’t really understand the appeal. I mean, having a box to wirelessly stream stuff is cool, but if I still need to cable connect my speakers, or soundbar to it, all I’m doing is moving where the cables are, not completely removing them.
This is where something such as Dolby FlexConnect could step in. Announced at IFA, the idea behind FlexConnect is pretty simple – it lets you create a quick and easy Dolby Atmos surround sound setup, by pairing specially made wireless speakers with your TV’s in-built speakers. We’ve yet to see a FlexConnect setup in the wild. as the first compatible TV and speaker system is set to arrive next year via TCL.
And while on paper the idea again sounds cool, we had some big questions. First is around the fact the setup needs you to use the TV’s inbuilt speakers as the central channel – check our best TV guide and you’ll see that even the top-performing sets we test still struggle to deliver reliable audio using their inbuilt speakers. Looking specifically at the LG C3 and LG G3, you’ll also see poor audio is a common complaint we had testing both sets this year.
But then there’s the problem with wireless in general. Whenever you try and use wireless audio on a large scale, beyond stereo, there’s the question of interference and latency creeping into the mix. And so even with the idea of FlexConnect, I’m still not sold on the idea of using it for a completely wireless home cinema setup.
It’s this combination of factors that makes me worry companies are on the verge of making a mistake and jumping on at the idea of fully wireless home cinema tech before the hardware is ready, or there’s much of a demand for it – the same way many decided curved screens where a great idea back in the day.
Here’s hoping I’m wrong…
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