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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

Planet Radio TV tune in on any device

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Planet Radio TV plans to be Africa’s first online broadcaster that allows its listeners to watch via Internet and satellite TV as well as listen via FM or Internet radio. SEAN BACHER visits its studios.

Planet Radio TV (PRTV) is broadcast much like any other terrestrial radio station, allowing its users to tune into it with a standard FM tuner. But its owner, Planet Image Productions, is about to launch two other means of tuning into the station.

In the coming month, MultiChoice will place a new satellite in orbit that will, by the new year, allow Planet to broadcast to subscribers via the satellite. Planet has also announced the PRTV app, which can be downloaded to Apple, BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile devices, allowing users to stream the content to their phones and tablets.

‚”What makes this unique though is that our systems will automatically detect a user’s connection speed and stream content in a format that suits that speed, says Planet Image CEO Wale Akinlabi. ‚”For example, someone connecting through 3G will be able to view high-definition video and hear high-definition audio. A user with a slower connection will still be able to view and listen to the station, but at a lower quality.‚”

This, he believes, will eliminate the buffering issue which discourages many users from streaming video and audio to their devices.

The radio station comprises 80% African music, with the remainder being international, and is targeted at Africa’s youth.

‚”At PRTV we intend to change the way consumers view, listen and interact with television, radio and Internet mediums,‚” says Mabel Mabaso, chief operations officer and director at Planet Image. ‚”It is an exciting platform that synchronises three mediums, providing opportunities for consumers and advertisers alike.‚”

Planet RadioTV differentiates itself from other local broadcasters with its clever use of software and hardware. Planet Image uses a high-definition video-graphics (HDVG) rendering program, designed by Orad, an Israeli company specialising in TV production software. This software suite, combined with four Panasonic high-definition cameras, is able to detect and focus on a person’s voice. When the camera fixes on a voice, that camera is automatically activated and begins broadcasting. Should someone else begin talking, a separate camera will detect the voice and focus on that person.

The software controlling the cameras also performs basic video editing. Mabaso says that, although the initial cost of the equipment was more than that of standard cameras, it will prove well worth it, as it eliminates the need for a dedicated cameraman filming the show in the studio.

‚”Another payoff is that we don’t need that much office space,‚” she says.

Based in Randburg in Johannesburg, the studio is small in comparison to most others and the control room is just big enough for one person.

‚”The control room merely serves as a back-up should one of the cameras fail. It also allows us to control when and where visual adverts appear.‚”

The system is also tightly integrated with applications like Skype.

‚”We can interview someone overseas without having to send a crew there to perform recording. We simply communicate via Skype, making the interviewee’s Internet camera an extension of our own in-studio cameras.‚”

Besides featuring local and international music, the station has regular fashion, food and cooking, music and culture segments, which are broadcast to around 30 000 listeners around Africa.

Rounding up the technology aspect, PRTV has integrated Twitter and Facebook, allowing its listeners to interact with DJs.

Listeners can tune into Planet Radio TV by logging onto www.planetradio.co.za

* Follow Sean Bacher on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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Canon EOS M – small and simple

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Canon has extended the EOS range with the EOS M, its first compact system camera. Although not yet available in South Africa, the EOS M offers DSLR quality images and full HD recording in a compact, easy to use device.

Canon has expanded the EOS range with the launch of the EOS M. The company’s first ever compact system camera (CSC), the EOS M offers DSLR-quality imaging and full HD movie creation in a compact and easy-to-use model.

The EOS M is available in sleek black, glossy white, stylish silver or bold red colours, and condenses Canon’s EOS imaging heritage into a stylish, compact design. The model launches alongside two new lenses, the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM pancake and the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM standard zoom, as well as a new compact EX Speedlite the Speedlite 90EX. For those who want to push their images even further, the EOS M can also use Canon’s range of EF lenses with the new Mount Adapter EF-EOS M, for even more creative freedom.

The quality of a Canon DSLR

The EOS M’s high-resolution, 18 megapixel APS-C hybrid CMOS sensor also allows you to blur the background for beautiful portraits, or for close-ups with impact.

With the inclusion of Canon’s DIGIC 5 processor, colours ‚’pop’ and skin tones are beautifully natural, while a super-fast shutter allows you to capture split-second action.

Shoot what you see and easily express your creative vision

Every aspect of the EOS M has been designed to make it simple to capture high-quality images. With the high-resolution, 7.7cm (3.0‚”), Clear View LCD II Touch screen, the EOS M gives you as much or as little control over your photos as desired. Simply select different shooting modes and settings via the on-screen icons, or let Scene Intelligent Auto adjust the camera settings according to the subject and shooting conditions, leaving you free to focus on composition and selecting the perfect moment to hit the shutter release button.

Turn film-maker with EOS Movie and Video Snapshot

When a moment calls for more than a still image, the EOS M lets you switch to Full HD video with stereo sound.

Extending the EOS System with dedicated accessories

In addition to compatibility with Canon’s existing EF lenses, accessories and Speedlites, the EOS M launches with its own range of accessories. Two new EF-M lenses offer portability and high performance when using the new model the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM standard zoom and the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM pancake lens. Both feature new stepper motor technology for exceptionally smooth AF performance, as well as precision Canon optics, while their compact designs offer the perfect form-factor to complement the camera’s pocket-sized body.

Additionally, the EOS M will ship with the new Speedlite 90EX flash unit as standard. Lightweight and highly-compact, it offers a maximum guide number of nine and supports wide-angle lenses, making it an ideal general-purpose flash for everyday use. A wireless master function also allows the control of multiple flash guns wirelessly, allowing more advanced users to experiment with a range of creative lighting effects.

EOS M key features

· The quality of a digital SLR in a compact body

· Scene Intelligent Auto

· Be versatile with interchangeable lenses

· Create out-of-focus backgrounds for high impact

· Easy-to-use touch-screen

· Atmospheric photos in low light

· Full-HD video with Video Snapshot Mode

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