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Dolby, DTS Add Height To Surround Sound

Dolby and DTS went to International CES to demonstrate separate post-processing matrix-decoding technologies that derive height information from two-, 5.1- and 7.1-channel soundtracks for playback through two front-height speakers.

Dolby is also targeting game developers to encode matrix height information into their surround-sound mixes, said Craig Eggers, Dolby’s senior manager for CE partner marketing. “We could do it in music and movie mixes, too,” he added.

Adding a vertical component to horizontal soundfields adds more realism and airiness to movie soundtracks and games, the companies contended. The technologies would elevate the sounds of hovering helicopters in games and movies, and in music videos, add more “depth, dimension and presence,” said Eggers. Rain would seem to be falling on a listener’s roof. Planes flying overhead will actually sound as if they’re flying overhead rather than through a listener sitting on the couch, said DTS marketing VP Tom Dixon.

Incorporating height information in a surround mix would enable game developers to incorporate height effects that would more precisely track visual game play than post-processing would, Dolby’s Eggers noted. DTS, however, has no plans for now to market its technology for encoding in games and other source material, said spokesman Anthony Watkins.

Dolby’s technology is Dolby Pro Logic IIz, which adds two front height channels to typical 5.1- and 7.1-channel home theater configurations to create surround systems with up to 9.1 channels. Eggers said IIz-equipped A/V receivers will be available “very soon,” with the first arriving before CEDIA. At the show, Dolby displayed a prototype Dolby Pro Logic IIz 7.1-channel AV receiver from Onkyo.

Onkyo is targeting May or June availability of the A/V receiver, which will “support the seven-channel configuration with height but will not the nine-channel one,” said marketing and product planning manager Paul Wasek.

For its part, DTS demonstrated a new technology that adds two front height and two additional horizontal-plane surround channels to create a soundfield with up to 11.1 channels. The technology, in the Neo family but as yet unnamed, can also be used to create only the two height channels. “The algorithm is ready,” and the first A/V receivers with the technology could appear late this year or early next, said DTS’s Dixon.

Both technologies could be incorporated into chips already used in low- to high-priced AVRs, both companies said. “MIPs are not an issue these days,” DTS’s Dixon said. “If a receiver has [losslessly compressed] DTS HD Master, it can do Neo X.” During CES, an AVR with DTS HD Master and Dolby TrueHD was announced by Pioneer at a suggested $299.