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1-Speaker Surround Sound Coming To CES

Technology developer 1Limited will turn up at January’s CES to market a proprietary technology that delivers multichannel surround sound with a wide sweet spot from a single active speaker.

For the technology’s worldwide launch, 1Limited will stage an on-site demo, which will be limited to potential CE hardware licensees on an invitation-only basis.

Current virtual surround technologies require two separate front speakers, and most of those technologies limit their effects to a narrow sweet spot along a line directly between the two speakers. Only one two-speaker system, Bose’s $999 DVD-equipped 3-2-1, expands the sweet spot to let multiple listeners simultaneously enjoy surround sound from almost anywhere they would normally watch TV in a room. The effects don’t fall apart abruptly at a given distance, Bose has said.

1Limited’s product is the single-piece Digital Sound Projector. It is 2 feet high by 3 feet wide and only 5 inches deep. Its 100-pound chassis incorporates processor, amplifier, and 254 tiny front-panel drivers that, according to company literature, produce “multiple steerable sound beams that are ‘bounced’ off the walls and ceiling to produce a remarkable suround-sound experience [that] fills the whole room.”

By producing tight, focusable “beams of sound,” the company said, Sound Projector “beams the separate sound channels around the listener’s room. By reflecting off walls and other surfaces in the room, these beams finally come to the listener from left and right, front and rear.”

The Projector’s processor “delivers a unique signal to each [driver], which, according to phase relationships, interferes either constructively or destructively with other signals to form the ‘focal point’ for each independent channel.” The effect, the company explained, “is akin to having a separate big focusable transducer for each channel, all at the same place, but pointing in different directions.”

Sound channels, the company continues, “can be created from positions where even in-wall loudspeakers are unsuitable, such as large windowed or curtained boundaries.”

The supplied IR remote can be used to program in a room’s size, shape, and placement of curtains and furniture. “Once the single unit is in place, the sound projector can be ‘tuned’ to the acoustic conditions of your room using no more than a remote control,” the company continued. “Move the layout of your room, or just change where you want to sit, and the system can be easily adjusted.”

The version that 1Limited will demonstrate will incorporate Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1-channel decoders and Dolby Pro Logic decoding, but because the device is capable of reproducing up to eight channels, it’s compatible with Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES 6.1-channel sources, the company said.

All that’s needed to deliver a home theater experience is a DVD player or VCR. It can also reproduce surround sound delivered with analog over-air and cable-TV programs.

It comes with four optical SP/DIF inputs and one stereo-analog input.

The system delivers 6×80 watts of amplification, a frequency response of 80Hz-20kHz (+/-3dB), and efficiency of 110dB at 1-watt/1-meter.

Other features include an adjustable crossover output of 80-150Hz, separate analog and coaxial SP/DIG digital output, on-screen display, IR remote, and RS-232 for integration with other home systems.

1Limited said it expects licensees to position the product initially at “the high end,” but it later expects mass-market penetration “pending developing the right OEM relationships.”

Systems such as 1Limited’s and Bose’s 3-2-1 are intended to broaden the base of potential home theater customers by simplifying system setup and enabling consumers to integrate home theater components more easily into a greater variety of viewing environments. The two companies also see potential for adding a home theater system to a second room in the house, such as a bedroom, or to a second home.

1Limited pointed out that its system can be programmed by the end user to fit into a “wide range of room geometries” and that room-layout changes can be accommodated without having to reposition speakers or cable.

Bose said its system also gives consumers more options for surround-system placement because it works well in L-shaped rooms and in rooms with TVs located in a corner.

1Limited was founded in 1995 by CEO Anthony Hooley, who holds a Ph.D. in physics and is an ex-IBM Research Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge. He has also served as technical and managing director of various companies.

Since 1995, Hooley has worked full-time on research and development of the Digital Sound Projector and ceramic actuators, which can be used in home speakers.

Another technology developed by 1Limited are ceramic actuators that shrink or expand when current is applied. They have no moving parts or magnets, are light and compact, and are said to be more efficient than electromagnetic motors or solenoids. The technology, which isn’t used in the Sound Projector, can also be used for PDA and wireless-phone speakers, hard-disk motors, and autofocus mechanisms for cameras.