The future of sound is here, as Dolby brings “sound objects” to the living room, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
We tend to be so captivated by the dazzling visuals on the latest high-defintion TV screens, it is easy to miss a key element in bringing the moving images to life: realistic sound. And it’s about to be taken to a higher level.
Already, the quality of sound and video available on high-end TV sets makes for a feast of the senses.
The machine that encapsulates the current state of the art, the LG EG960T, is a 55-inch curved beauty that is as much a piece of futuristic furniture as it is futuristic technology. It is the front end of a new range of TV sets from LG that use OLED, or Organic Light-Emiting Diodes, to provide the sharpest images ever seen on screen.
It is almost incidental that these sets also support 4K: video with 4000 pixels horizontally and 2000 vertically, offering almost 4 times the resolution of high-definition video – regarded as the ultimate viewing experience just a few years ago. The main problem with 4K is that little content has been made in that resolution until recently.
The sets also use Dolby Vision, a technology that combines a wide range of colours and high dynamic range (HDR). HDR means multiple images made with different exposures are combined into a single image to make for more realistic scenes, containing higher contrast, brighter highlights and more colour than was possible before.
It all adds up to breathtaking quality that is still referred to as the future of TV. That future has already arrived, but helped along by dramatic improvements in sound technology. And in this case it is just the beginning.
The EG9600 includes a sound bar – usually something bought separately to create a home theatre experience – developed with audio pioneers Harman/Kardon. It’s described as a “front-firing” sound bar speaker system, since the speakers point forward, as opposed to downward on many flat-screen TVs.
This eliminates much of the sound distortion and reflection that usually comes from TV sets, resulting in far cleaner and “detailed” audio, as LG describes it. Extra woofers – low-frequency speakers – are included in the sound bar to boost the output.
Now add Dolby Digital, the audio compression format that introduced the world to surround sound, and the set comes close to the pinnacle of home theatre. However, to bring surround sound into its own, one needs to position up to five additional speakers that take advantage of the sound channels that Dolby Digital creates in a configuration known as 5:1, which denotes five different directions from which the sound appears to emanate.
The sound bar addresses this to some extent, and the combination of Dolby Vision and Dolby Digital – even without the additional speakers – will convince many users they don’t need to add home theatre accessories.
Until, that is, the next phase in the evolution of sound arrives. It’s called Dolby Atmos and, already, it is spreading through cinemas globally. A cinema’s own set-up allows for a 7.1.4 format, meaning the equivalent of a regular seven channel format along with four overhead speakers.
However, it is not dependent on seven distinct sound sources. The technology is entirely in the software of the device, and understands the way a human hears, and how sound arrives in the brain. As a result, “sound objects” are created and “positioned” virtually in any location relative to the audience.
The best recent example of a movie screened with Atmos capability is Gravity, in which the sound seems to revolve around the viewer. However, it will come into its own in virtual reality movies, games and content. It is little wonder, then that the technology is arriving in consumer technology devices.
At Lenovo Tech World in San Francisco in June, Lenovo unveiled three new Yoga 3 tablets in different formats, as well as a 6.4-inch phablet, the Phab 2 Pro, all equipped with Dolby Atmos. This means that, when listening to any content with Atmos output through speakers, a similar surround experience is delivered.
Soon, Atmos will be built into TV sets as well.
“For us, Atmos is the future of sound, from home cinemas to video games,” said Brett Crockett, vice president in charge of sound technology research and development at Dolby’s Advanced Technology Group, during a demo at the Dolby Laboratories headquarters in San Francisco.
“The challenge I gave the team was to make it sound better than it has ever sounded before and make it easier than it’s ever been before. That’s why we invented a new type of soundbar and new type of speaker: so that you can have the Atmos experience out of the box.”
The beauty of the technology is that it adapts automatically to the capabilities of the user’s set-up.
“The sound is only rendered when it hits your system, and as it renders it knows your system’s capability. So, as you add speakers, you get a better experience.”
Crockett points out that film studios are embracing Dolby Vision as well as a Atmos “in a major way”.
“That helps the pipeline for home distribution as well. We’re working with all the majors on mastering and remastering new and library movies for home distribution. Netflix is streaming in Dolby Vision worldwide, as well as in Dolby Cinema format, which combines Dolby Vision projection technology and Dolby Atmos.”
LG is Dolby’s first worldwide partner, hence its 4K OLED sets are the first to roll-out Dolby Vision. The next generation of TV sets will probably also include Atmos. But that’s not where the story ends, either.
“We’re ready for 9.1.6,” says Crockett of a format that will have nine sound sources around the viewer, along with six speakers in the ceiling. “When the next generation of receivers comes out, we’ll be ready for it.”
Prepare for Digital TV migration
The deadline for the digital migration is fast approaching. JACQUES BENTLEY, Skyworth Southern Africa Sales Manager, lets us know what we can expect.
By now you’ve probably heard about the impending digital migration for South African broadcasting. Initially, this shift from old-school, analogue technology to newer, more efficient digital technology was set to take place in 2015 but the deadline for a national migration has been pushed out several times. With our neighbours Namibia and Botswana blazing ahead with their own digital transformations, the pressure is on for our own government to push forward to a fully digital South Africa.
But what does this overdue switch really mean for you and me?
What is digital migration?
Basically, the process involves moving over from an analogue transmission to a Digital Terrestrial Television/Transmission (DTT). We currently use analogue technology, transmitting video and audio through analogue signals. The drawback of this traditional broadcasting format is that the colours, sound and brightness are heavily impacted by the quality of the signal, resulting in a less-than-ideal snowy effect, and your TV deciding to randomly fade or ghost.
Digital TV, on the other hand, boasts crystal-clear image quality and excellent sound without interference because of its land-based network of TV transmitters that broadcast digital signals. This kind of technology also allows viewers to access a wider range of channels with different programmes.
Why is it happening?
Apart from the fact that everyone wants clearer sound, more channels and an enhanced viewing experience, the conversion to digital TV also has a far-reaching goal that ultimately
aids developing nations like our own. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the objective of Broadcast Digital Transition (BDT) work is to help developing countries with their smooth journey from analogue to digital broadcasting, including terrestrial TV, mobile TV and sound broadcasting. In turn, this means that we can enjoy new broadcasting services as well as an allocation of the digital dividend.
When is it taking place?
June 2019 is D-Day for all countries to have completed their digital migration. Our Communications department is determined to meet this international deadline and has implemented a specific DTT war room to ensure that all the boxes are ticked, and they can deliver on time.
The first province to undergo the digital migration was the Free State back in August, where digital Set-Top Boxes (STBs) were launched in Senekal. Essentially, STBs decode digital signals for old, box-style TV sets and the government aims to distribute these devices to about 5-million poor households, so that all citizens can enjoy prime TV, despite their financial situation. In fact, Skyworth is one of the chosen suppliers of these set-top boxes and is proud to be a core part of an all-inclusive transition to digital.
What can you do about it?
While the government has agreed to subsidise cash-strapped consumers with STBs, the only guarantee is that the digital migration is upon us and it is our responsibility to digitally transform our homes in order to meet the requirements. This means that you’ll either need to invest in a digital-ready TV or purchase your own STB to work with your current TV’s analogue signal. Whichever route you decide to go, you can look forward to exceptional viewing entertainment in the comfort of your own home.
5 things you should ask about buying a new TV
With so many technological advancements that cater to various needs, and endless options on the market, buying a new TV for your home can be pretty daunting. JACQUES BENTLEY, Southern African Sales Manager at Skyworth, offers a few tips when buying a new TV.
Given the role a TV occupies in the home – providing entertainment, relaxation and a window to the world for the whole family – it’s not a purchasing decision to be made lightly. Not to mention the fact that you’re likely to spend a rather large sum of hard-earned dough in the process. Fear not – we’re here to help you decide. Here are five important things to think about before you swipe that plastic to ensure your new TV will bring nothing but joy into your home (ok, and maybe a couple of disagreements on what to watch).
- Size matters
If you’re a fan of action-packed movies or nail-biting sporting events, you already know how important the size of the screen is. Consider the space into which your new TV will fit, and take measurements of the wall area or cabinet it’s going to sit on to make sure that you’re being practical about its size. How many people will be watching the TV at the same time? Now opt for the largest screen size that will fit comfortably in your lounge (and your budget). Generally, anything between 55 and 65 inches is a great all-round pick according to price, performance and how close most families sit to the TV.
- Is it digital-ready?
South Africa’s digital migration is upon us and by June 2019, you’ll either need a digital-ready TV that can transmit digital signals or a Set-Top Box to decode digital signals for your old, box-style analogue TV set. The benefits of investing in a digital TV include crystal-clear image quality, excellent sound and a wider range of channels. Ask the sales assistant to show you their range of digital ready TVs when making your selection.
- Does it have a 4K screen resolution?
Resolution refers to the sharpness of the TV picture, usually in terms of horizontal lines of pixels. Ultra HD/ 4K sets have four times more pixels than current Full HD screens. That’s as many as 2 160 horizontal lines, or 3 840 x 2 160 pixels. The result? Super-sharp, detailed and lifelike images, even on large screen sizes. For this reason, a 4K resolution is becoming increasingly popular because it’s a much better choice if you want to future-proof your investment – Skyworth’s G6 model was created with this in mind; it’s basically an Android TV made for the future.
- What will you be using your TV for?
Apart from the obvious activity of chilling out to watch your favourite shows, what else do you want to be able to do with your TV? Will your kids be using it to play games? Will you be streaming shows on it? All of these preferences will impact the specific features that will attract you to buy a certain model over another one, so it’s wise to do your research, either online or in store, before you say ‘yes’ to the device. Also, look out for at least four HDMI ports at the back of the set as these tend to get used up very quickly, especially if you are using accessories like a sound bar.
- Does it include cutting-edge technology?
From Google Voice Assist, allowing you to speak to your TV, to rich connectivity via Bluetooth, selecting a TV that has advanced capabilities makes for a smarter TV and one you aren’t likely to need to replace in a few years’ time. With Android System 6.0, an easily updatable operating system, the G6 TV is your best bet when it comes to constantly upgrading your TV without forking out money every time.