February 10, 2021
Many of the features that have made Bluetooth a cornerstone of the wireless audio market for years make it the perfect protocol for cutting-edge ultra-low latency solutions.
For years, Bluetooth has been the go-to protocol for the transmission of music, speech, and other types of audio data. In fact, according to recent research, the global market for Bluetooth headphones is set to enjoy a 10 percent compound annual growth rate through 2026, at which point its value will top $120 billion.
The Bluetooth Classic protocol has managed to achieve — and maintain — such popularity for a number of reasons. While its standard range is fairly limited (typically around 10 meters), its high throughput (up to 3Mbps with enhanced data rate) means it is ideally suited to a range of consumer audio applications. Additionally, Bluetooth’s Low-Complexity Subband Codec (SBC) registers a baseline latency time of roughly 100ms, meaning devices are able to transmit relatively large amounts of data with minimal lag.
Below, we explore one particularly promising use case for Bluetooth-based ultra-low latency technology (wireless gaming headsets), how Telink’s ultra-low latency solutions can help developers push the boundaries of wireless audio devices, and the ways in which Bluetooth continues to evolve to support reduced latency in audio applications.
From general consumer headphones to surround sound home entertainment systems, there are many use cases that could benefit from Bluetooth’s ultra-low latency capabilities. One of the most compelling, however, is wireless gaming headsets.
Once a niche hobby enjoyed by a small subset of the population, video gaming has become a major force in today’s society. Thanks in large part to social platforms and live streaming services like Twitch and YouTube Gaming, gaming is now a multibillion-dollar industry. With total viewership predicted to jump from 454 million in 2019 to 646 million in 2023, e-sports revenue is predicted to top $1.8 billion by 2022.
As a result, the professional e-sports talent pipeline is starting to function similarly to any other sport’s talent pipeline. Indeed, as of 2019, some 200 colleges and universities in the United States were offering a total of $15 million per year in e-sports scholarships, and high school e-sports organizer PlayVS has raised $46 million in investment from the likes of Adidas and entertainment mogul Diddy.
For gamers at any level, victory is often a matter of milliseconds. “Latency is a gamer’s worst nightmare, especially in fast-paced games where any lag between command and effect can affect the outcome. If the audio slips out of sync, then it puts players at a distinct disadvantage,” explains SAR Insight & Consulting Market Analyst Joe Murray.
While practice is certainly important — collegiate gamers dedicate around four hours per day to fine-tuning their skills, and research suggests practice does improve reaction times — high-performing equipment is arguably even more important. Competitive gamers must invest in monitors that are at least 120 Hz as well as PC accessories — controllers, mice, keyboards, and so forth — with low input delays. They also need customized wireless gaming headsets with ultra-low latency, excellent battery life, and audio broadcasting capabilities to support intrateam communication.
Ultimately, when the game is on the line, e-sports teams need to be able to rely on ultra-low latency audio devices that produce minimal lag — both for their own competitive advantage and for the enjoyment of the thousands or even millions of audience members watching along.
Telink’s customized ultra-low latency solutions are ideal for gaming teams and e-sports competitions, as well as any other use case that has strict requirements for low latency. Our optimized Bluetooth Classic-based solution delivers end-to-end latency of approximately 40ms, which includes both RF and codec processing time. In addition to delivering end-to-end latency of approximately 20ms, our Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-based solution supports wireless gaming headsets (and other ultra-low latency devices) that have excellent battery life and audio broadcasting capabilities.
As a company that has always been dedicated to building the future of the Internet of Things and consumer electronics, we are committed to continuing to explore new ways to reduce audio latency. For instance, at CES 2020 last January, Bluetooth unveiled Bluetooth version 5.2, which delivers two key updates that will help dramatically reduce audio latency.
First, Bluetooth 5.2 introduces the Enhanced Attribute Protocol (EATT), a refreshed version of Bluetooth’s original Attribute Protocol (ATT). Unlike ATT, EATT can perform concurrent or parallel transactions between a BLE client and a server, meaning transactions from more than one application can occur simultaneously. This not only improves the user experience, but reduces latency since a device need no longer wait to perform multiple actions sequentially.
Second, Bluetooth 5.2 (more specifically, Bluetooth LE Audio) provides a new audio codec, the Low-Complexity Communications Codec (LC3). In addition to improving audio quality, offering multi-stream capabilities, and supporting multiple synchronous connections, LC3 is designed to reduce latency. Whereas SBC registers a latency time of roughly 100ms, LC3 registers a latency time of just 5ms.
Whether it is with our current Bluetooth Classic-based ultra-low latency solution or a future solution that incorporates the advances introduced by Bluetooth 5.2, developers of audio devices can rest easy knowing that when they build on a Telink chip, they will get everything they need to deliver exceptional devices with the kind of negligible latency that today’s consumers have come to expect.