Keeping pace with the ever-changing A/V landscape can be exhausting. That’s been true for the past few decades—what with the advent of digital surround sound, digital video, digital connectivity, and the merry-go-round of competing standards—but it’s truer now than ever before. What makes the current pace of change somewhat different from the past is that current trends are driven as much by changing lifestyles and changing demographics as they are by technological innovations. But those are still important, too.

 

In short, here are three trends that you can’t ignore if you want to stay relevant in today’s A/V marketplace.

 

Voice control is where it’s at, but don’t bother developing your own system: These days, consumers have simply grown accustomed to gabbing at everything: their phones, their lights, their in-car navigation systems. And yes, even their A/V devices. Granted, it’s not always practical to use voice commands to pause, rewind, turn up the volume, or what have you. But in today’s marketplace, you simply can’t get away with not offering these capabilities, nonetheless.For goodness sake, though, don’t bother developing your own voice recognition system. Companies like Amazon (Alexa) and Google (Google Assistant) are pouring gobs of cash into refining their digital voice assistants, and most people who care about voice control already own devices that house one or the other (if not both). Work with them. Make your products compatible with them. Slap their stickers on the side of your box. If your A/V product isn’t voice compatible, I guarantee one of your competitors’ is.

 

Everyone hates wires, and we can finally start cutting them out of the equation. The promise of wireless audio—not just for digital music systems, but for high-fidelity home theater systems—has been dangling in front of our industry for what seems like forever. The problem is, it’s never really worked well. Issues related to latency, price, and performance have keep wireless home theater from really being a widespread reality.But we’re on the verge of turning a corner here. High-quality wireless protocols like WiSA are finally starting to take off, and more companies are signing onboard. As this initiative picks up steam, you can expect to see more surround sound systems that completely lack speaker cables—and A/V receivers, for that matter.

 

In addition, we’re seeing way more TVs these days with built-in Bluetooth capabilities, and although Bluetooth has a bit of a bad reputation in A/V circles, the latest versions have made vast improvements in latency, and often support better codecs, for a better all-around audio experience. Of course, Bluetooth can’t do surround sound, but that brings us to one more trend you can’t ignore…

 

Atmos is great, but stereo home theater is on the rise: Perhaps no new audio format has been so warmly embraced in home theater enthusiast circles as has Dolby Atmos, and its competitor in the object-based surround sound marketplace, DTS: X. If you have the space and the inclination to fill your room (and your ceiling) with speakers, these formats offer an immersive audio experience like no other.

 

Here’s the thing, though. I work for one of the main A/V enthusiast publications on the web, where we’ve done numerous, extensive reader surveys to better understand our audience. As it turns out, although our readers love reading about Atmos, and even love buying Atmos-capable electronics, few of them—fewer than 10%—actually install all of the speakers necessary to make such systems work.

 

Conversely—and this may seem like heresy—we’re seeing more and more of a melding of two-channel audio and home theater. And this is coming from both directions: traditional stereo manufacturers adding HDMI connectivity to their preamps and integrated amps on the one hand; and on the other, traditional home theater manufacturers offering receivers with all the usual A/V trappings (a gazillion HDMI inputs, room correction, subwoofer outputs, network connectivity, etc.) but only two amps and two speaker outputs.

 

Of course, this may well be a result of declining home ownership, since a two-channel setup is way more portable than a seven-dot-two-dot-whatever-channel system, but no matter the reason, it’s a trend to take note of.

 

Dennis Burger spends most of his free time watching Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Critical Role. He also somehow manages to find room in his schedule for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. In addition to serving as senior editor for HomeTheaterReview.com, he also contributes to Cineluxe and Residential Tech Today. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who’s convinced he’s a Pomeranian.