The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced earlier this week that it had finalized the specifications for LE Audio, the next generation of Bluetooth coming later this year. Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) Audio is set to address many of the wireless technology’s shortcomings, including power usage and audio sharing.
Bluetooth has become pretty much ubiquitous these days, but it’s generally a technology most users love to hate. Pairing and latency issues are just the tip of the iceberg, though a company like Apple went as far as creating its own SoCs to improve that. Not being able to seamlessly share your audio with other people has been another source of frustration, though Bluetooth LE’s Auracast capability should finally change that.
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“LE Audio adds Auracast broadcast audio, a new capability that will enable an audio source transmitter (e.g., a smartphone) to broadcast one or more audio streams to an unlimited number of audio receivers (e.g., earbuds, speakers, hearing aids, etc.),” the Bluetooth SIG explained. In practice, this means being able to share your audio to multiple Bluetooth-enabled devices at the same time. However, the Bluetooth SIG already imagines how this Auracast technology is going to “unmute” the public space.
The possible public use cases for this Auracast technology go from the useful (listening to boarding announcements in airports) to the potentially intrusive. “In public places, Auracast broadcast audio could unmute screens that were previously silent, allowing interested watchers to easily join the television’s audio broadcast using their personal Bluetooth devices without disturbing others,” explained Jim Liao, Marketing Director of Realtek Semiconductor Corp.
In addition to Auracast broadcast audio, Bluetooth LE will also provide higher audio quality while using less power thanks to a new LC3 codec. This will also allow manufacturers to create smaller hearing aids and other audio peripherals that are less intrusive, but existing form factors could also get better audio quality and battery life.
If the first Bluetooth LE products are expected to ship later this year, the Bluetooth SIG hinted that there’s probably going to be some fragmentation between “LE Audio” and “Classic Audio” products. “Support for Classic Audio will not be mandatory for LE Audio devices. It will be up to product developers to decide which versions of Bluetooth audio their solution supports,” the organization explained in a separate FAQ.
If you’re wondering if your current Bluetooth headphones could get support for Bluetooth LE, the Bluetooth SIG explained that “existing Classic Audio products could be compatible with LE Audio source products.” However, manufacturers will likely find it better if you purchase a new product that supports LE Audio out of the box.