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Something to look forward to: With the 3.5mm jack all but gone from smartphones, Bluetooth has become the standard for listening to our headphones---though there's plenty of room for improvement. At CES, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has announced that the technology will receive a new set of features known as Bluetooth LE Audio.
The LE part of the name stands for "low energy," which has been connecting devices such as wearables and sensors without rapidly draining their batteries since 2012. Now, it's coming to wireless audio devices that have always had higher power requirements, allowing them to send sound over the low energy spectrum.
One of the new features is Multi-Stream Audio. Rather than being able to stream audio to just one device, it will allow sound to be transmitted to multiple devices at the same time. The feature should be of great benefit to truly wireless earbuds like Apple's AirPods, where only one bud receives a signal before forwarding it to the other side. It will also allow users to connect their wireless headphones to multiple devices at the same time, letting them seamlessly switch between audio sources.
Additionally, Multi-Stream allows a source device to broadcast a Bluetooth signal to an unlimited number of devices. "At airports, at gates and lounges, at sports bars and restaurants, at gymnasiums and waiting rooms---many of these locations now have televisions installed and they're largely silent," said Bluetooth SIG vice president of marketing Ken Kolderup. "Now imagine being able to walk into any of those locations and, from a standard headset, being able to scan for and tune in to the audio from one of those TVs."
Another change will be an improvement in the audio quality, thanks to the Low Complexity Communication Codec (LC3), which uses half the bandwidth of the current Bluetooth audio codes, thereby decreasing power consumption. This will enable wireless products that last twice as long or come with smaller batteries.
The Bluetooth SIG says more LE Audio specifications will be released in the first half of 2020, with compatible products expected to arrive later in the year. LE Audio listening in venues should arrive in the next three years.