By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Dolby Audio Technologies has two surround sound formats which can improve the movie-going experience if the studios and theatre chains embrace it. Most auditoriums are configured with either DTS or ATMOS sound; to fully appreciate the soundscape, people have to be sitting at the sweet spot. This technology was introduced in 2012 and it provides a nice sweeping experience assuming the movie is encoded in this format and the stadium’s speaker setup is configured to the right sound levels. New to the scene is DTS X (for any sound system) and Headphone X (for mobiles and tablets). In both formats, this psychoacoustic sound reproduction algorithm simulates surround sound from 11 different sources, including height, from a simple group of speakers or a pair of headphones. The former was introduced in 2015 with technology finally appearing this year (a full sound system upgrade is still required to get the most out of the specification), and the latter was first demonstrated in 2013 at E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Nearly three years later, this technology is not widely known by the mainstream public and it is still not recognized as an alternative means to enjoy surround sound as of 2016. Demos of this product only began appearing late 2015.
When considering this year is flagged as the time virtual reality can potentially take off, to provide a truly immersive experience requires the right sound system to match. Nearly everyone is excited for the Oculus Rift. This company partnered with RealSpace3D instead of Dolby and both use headphones to create a 3D auditory world. They both sound spectacular, recreating proximity to sound sources with ease in the demo videos offered, but mastering height is tricky. Not everyone hears the same way. People with hearing loss may not perceive noises from a heightened distance as easily. Both companies want to make inroads to the (home) theatre market but until movies get mixed into one of these auditory formats so it can be experienced, all anyone is going to get is a basic surround mix over an all-encompassing format.
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