Sean McNamara 129

Duplex high-quality audio for Bluetooth

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Sean McNamara 129 Comments
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If you've ever used a Bluetooth headset (a device which has both a microphone and one or more speakers and communicates wirelessly over the Bluetooth protocol), you'll know that you have two basic options: either you can get high-quality (stereo, CD-quality) audio playback to the speakers, but with the microphone disabled; or, you can get extremely low-quality, telephone-grade audio in both directions, playback and capture. This low-quality audio is "monaural" (mono), meaning only one channel, in each direction, and uses an obsolete codec that was invented for the telephone system more than 20 years ago.

Proprietary digital audio wireless protocols other than Bluetooth have existed for a long time. Many of them support "duplex" (simultaneous playback to the speakers/headphones and microphone capture/input) mode with high-quality, multi-channel sound. Popular products from brands such as Sony, Sennheiser and SteelSeries offer CD-quality (or better) audio in both directions with at least two channels for playback. However, the Bluetooth standards have lagged behind in this area.

As of February 2017, there is no standards-based way to transmit digital audio in a high-quality, modern lossy codec with CD-quality audio in both directions (playback and capture). Bluetooth is ideally positioned to be the solution, but the Bluetooth SIG must draft and put into effect a standard version that specifies the parameters of such a design.

This petition is to encourage the Bluetooth peripherals vendor and OEM industry, and the Bluetooth SIG leadership, to immediately begin research and development on a Bluetooth standard for multi-channel, CD-quality duplex audio. The adoption or modification of pre-existing standard profiles such as A2DP could hasten the development; for instance, A2DP's existing playback implementation could be used for the stereo playback. But it would need to be modified to support simultaneous audio capture from a microphone or other input source from the same Bluetooth peripheral.

The purpose of standardization is the same reason that Bluetooth is standardized at all: to allow consumers to mix and match devices from their preferred brand and have it "just work". Right now, to achieve duplex stereo audio, consumers are limited to a small number of proprietary, vendor-specific solutions, and if the consumer does not like the particular design, comfort or acoustic properties of a vendor's headset, they cannot simply swap it out with another vendor's competing headset and continue to take advantage of the same duplex protocol.

With Bluetooth, cross-vendor support from transceiver to peripheral is a major success story of standardization. Let's take it one step further and remove what has long been a holdout proprietary-only feature of wireless audio.

If you have noticed this remarkable lack of support for this functionality which has very obvious and widespread use case scenarios, please vote up this petition. The petition will be emailed to the Bluetooth SIG, as well as ten to twenty active developers of Bluetooth audio solutions, including, but not limited to, Sennheiser, Bang & Olufson, Creative, Sony, Microsoft, Samsung, Apple, and Qualcomm.

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