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.”
Future of TV in 4 letters
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.
Game of screens
When it comes to the ultimate home entertainment experience, what you watch is just as important as how you watch it. With streaming services like Netflix keeping people glued to their screens people are paying a lot more attention to the overall home viewing experience.
Flat panel TV screens have long been favoured as the most cost-efficient and appropriate option for everyday home entertainment. However, more and more people are investing in projectors and fully kitted-out home theatre systems to enhance the experience, as proven by the 28% global market growth of home-used projectors over the past five years. However, choosing between the myriad of options on the market today can be challenging.
When it comes to affordability, TVs are certainly becoming more accessible than ever. Where plasma screens were once the talk of the town, and features like HD quality and larger screen size only added more zeroes to the price, today’s LED and OLED models are far more accessible and affordable for everyone – despite offering even more technologically advanced features, which is the biggest reason why people generally opt for TVs.
However, projectors have become more affordable too, and are just as easy to use. The cutting-edge models available now are a far cry from the clunky ones with poor display quality of the previous tech era. For instance, the full HD Epson TW-600 series offers everything you would expect from high-end projectors – three-times brighter, crystal clear display thanks to 3LCD technology, built-in Wi-Fi, 11 years of lamp life and a great warranty offer – at a much more attractive price point compared to other projectors on the market. Unlike TVs, however, the projectors offer an immersive, real-life experience that TVs simply can’t match.
Screen size and quality
While the cost is almost always the first factor that people consider when purchasing a home entertainment system, factors like quality and screen size are often a close second and third.
On the one hand, LED TVs are great all-rounders for sport, movies, normal TV and gaming, and offer pretty much all the average person needs in terms of a home viewing experience that ranges from adequate to impressive. There are a variety of LED TV models currently on the market that offer great resolutions and good contrast ratios, but TV screens are still limited in terms of size, which impacts the overall viewing experience.
Projectors offer all the benefits of an LED TV with the added benefit of a huge, movie-theatre like screen to enjoy in the comfort of your home. Projectors are also capable of projecting high definition content onto a surface of anywhere from 30 inches right up to 300 inches, allowing you to choose your screen size depending on your requirements.
In terms of quality, 3LCD technology, as offered by world-leading technology brand Epson, is the most popular projector technology available on the market making up more than 69% of all projectors sold worldwide. This technology offers a clearer, crisper image, showing more detail while allowing for smoother motion on-screen and more vibrant, differentiated colours.
Choosing the best screen option for your dream home theatre setup is a decision that’s best made after careful consideration of the options that are currently available. And while the average flat panel TV screen display has certainly improved over the years in terms of technology and affordability, projection technology is cutting edge, and these nifty devices are now more accessible and desirable than ever.