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Dolby’s beautiful noise

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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.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Audio/Visual

Kia makes car audio personal

KIA Motors has revealed its Separated Sound Zone (SSZ) technology that allows each passenger of a vehicle to experience an audio stream tailored to their individual needs.

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SSZ technology creates and controls the acoustic fields of the car, allowing the driver and each passenger to hear isolated sounds. The many speakers installed in the vehicle feature technology that uses scientific principles to reduce or increase audio levels of sound waves. This negates the overlap of sounds being heard in each seat, creating the same effect as current noise cancellation systems, but without the need for headphones.

“Customers in the autonomous navigation era will demand increasingly customisable entertainment options within their vehicles, which includes technological innovations such as the Separated Sound System.” says Kang-duck Ih, Research Fellow at KIA’s NVH Research Lab. “I hope by providing drivers and passengers with tailored, independent audio spaces, they will experience a more comfortable and entertaining transportation environment.”

People’s musical tastes vary, so some passengers choose to use headphones during a journey to isolate their audio stream, but this also creates an unnecessary social barrier when interacting with other passengers. When travelling in a vehicle equipped with next-generation SSZ technology, each passenger can connect their smartphone via Bluetooth and listen to their own music without interference from, or interfering with other passenger’s audio streams.

When the SSZ is utilised, hands-free phone calls can also be isolated to individual passengers, ensuring privacy when having important phone conversations on the move.

Furthermore, this ground-breaking technology can eliminate unnecessary sounds for the passenger, but provide them for the driver. Navigation sounds, or various alerts, allow the driver to focus on controlling the vehicle, while the SSZ system isolates these sounds, maintaining a quiet area for the other passengers. This has a particularly strong application for drivers with a sleeping child in the vehicle.

SSZ technology has been in development since 2014, and the completed mass production system is expected to be ready for installation in vehicles within one to two years.

For a video of Separated Sound Zone technology, please visit https://youtu.be/lokXL8qyu1c.

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Future of TV in 4 letters

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Television technology has come a long way, transforming not just the way we consume our entertainment, but also the formats in which media is broadcasted or streamed. Today, TVs can do a lot more than just display our favourite shows, says DEAN DAFFUE, GTM manager at LG Electronics SA.

Today, consumers demand TVs that are not just slim, but so thin that they are like paintings on walls. TVs have become an element of décor that can seamlessly integrate into the design of a home, and render the clearest, sharpest images, with the deepest blacks and crispest whites without compromising on resolution. Home cinema is not just about the picture anymore. Consumers are eyeing TVs that would be able to learn usage patterns and automatically suggest entertainment based on individual preferences. The switch from LCD to LED transformed TV design, allowing for lighter, thinner and easily wall-mountable frames, housing even more sophisticated display tech. The picture quality also dramatically improved with new contrast ratios rendering more vivid colours, deeper blacks and crisper whites. But they were still more functional than aesthetic.

As larger segments of the population embraced internet connectivity and streaming content, the TV became smarter, integrating content-streaming apps for a more seamless viewing experience. As Internet Service Providers (ISPs) upgraded their infrastructures to accommodate the growth in streaming services, TV manufacturers also upgraded their TVs’ ability to tap into different types of content.

In the future, TVs with built in Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be able to learn usage patterns and automatically switch modes based on user preference, and even take instructions from multiple users as TVs become increasingly connected to digital home assistant systems.

Six years on, and we see the evolution that continues to lead in the OLED TV market, LG is racking up awards and accolades for its innovative OLED TVs. This pioneering effort in the design and manufacturing of OLED TVs has culminated in complete dominance of the OLED market, leaving the pinnacle challenge of innovation in display technology, redefining the TV viewing experience, and its place in your home. Great efforts have been made on OLED technology being affordable and accessible, allowing more people to enjoy a better-quality television experience than before. No TV is a greater testament to this than last year’s award-winning LG SIGNATURE W7 – also known as wallpaper.

As South Africans are continuously looking for ‘an experience that amazes’, OLED TVs are considered by industry experts to offer the most advanced display technology. As each pixel on the display can be individually switched on and off, OLED offers enhanced picture quality without image degradation. This results in the highest quality image rendering with the purest blacks. With its myriad advantages, OLED panels have become the most desired display technology today and it has become a leading force in making this technology even more ubiquitous and accessible.

With support for both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, LG OLED TV is the first of its kind to offer a premium cinema experience in the comfort of your home. It also features Active HDR technology, which optimises HDR picture quality scene-by-scene, rendering brighter scenes and greater shadow detail for a life-like viewing experience.

Despite the market dominance, the development of newer, more innovative technologies does not stop. This year a staggering number of innovative display technologies were unveiled, such as future display technology like roll-able OLED screens and large format curved displays that will become the future of wall art.

AI is also set to make an appearance. There is a unique and personalised AI services built on the deep learning-based DeepThinQ technology, in cooperation with other AI service providers such as Google, giving AI TVs the ability to automatically adjust the settings to Game Mode, or Sports Mode based on whether a user is currently playing Xbox or watching a football match. Ultimately, AI TV will provide care and comfort to users’ mind and body by learning more about its users’ viewing habits.

What does this all mean for consumers? With continued innovation and development of display technologies, as well as advanced design, AI, premium audio integration and support for the latest resolutions, colour and High Dynamic Range (HDR) standards, the TV will no longer be a display, but a complete home viewing experience. This is what new ranges of OLED TVs will bring to fruition in the coming months, making it the ideal time to upgrade your TV to the ultimate home entertainment experience.

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