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Digital Surround Sound Sources Multiply

Consumers don’t have to hunt around as much as before to enjoy video programming in 5.1-channel digital surround sound.

Digital 5.1-channel surround is available on a growing number of DVD discs and with a growing selection of programming sent over satellite-TV services, digital cable networks and terrestrial DTV stations, according to Dolby Labs.

As of early 2001, the number of DVD discs recorded with Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks almost doubled to 1,600 out of almost 8,500 DVD-Video discs available in the United States. Of the 1,600, a total of 1,354 were movies. A year ago, only 940 discs featured Dolby Digital 5.1.

For its part, Digital Theater Systems (DTS) said 206 DTS-encoded DVD-Video discs are available in the United States, compared with only 40 a year ago.

Also as of February, 13 DVDs delivered Dolby Digital EX-encoded 6.1-channel soundtracks, Dolby said. Another 12 feature DTS ES 6.1-channel soundtracks, DTS said.

5.1 by satellite, terrestrial TV: A growing amount of digital standard-definition TV (SDTV) and high-definition TV (HDTV) programming is also being transmitted to viewers in Dolby Digital 5.1. Some is available through digital satellite-TV broadcasters DirecTV and EchoStar.

Since it launched its pay-per-view service, DirecTV has made several standard-definition movies available per week in 5.1 on its PPV channels, and EchoStar has delivered about the same number of 5.1 SDTV movies per week on the pay-per-view service it launched in 1999, said Dolby. The two also pass through 5.1 signals transmitted by such content providers as HBO, Showtime and Starz.

DirecTV said the total number of programs that it broadcasts in 5.1 (in SD or HD) varies from six to 14 per week. Programs include movies, series episodes and other events.

Dolby said Showtime has already made more than 80 movies and five weekly series available in 5.1, most of them in the 2000-01 season, and Starz has aired more than 50 movies, again most in the 2000-01 season.

Showtime and Starz programming, plus movies, can also be heard in their 5.1 glory by more than 3 million households subscribing to digital cable service, Dolby said.

Terrestrial DTV: Still more 5.1 content is becoming available with the growth of terrestrial DTV, which lets local TV stations deliver 5.1-channel soundtracks (backed up in Dolby Surround) to their viewers.

By early 2001, almost 90 of 177 terrestrial DTV stations on the air-most of them delivering high-definition TV (HDTV)-were able to broadcast 5.1-channel sound, Dolby said. That’s up from about 30 in early 2000. As of early 2001, however, only the ABC and PBS networks were delivering 5.1-channel surround to their affiliate stations.

Between those two networks and the two satellite providers, at least 64 series, movies and special events announced as of early 2001 were scheduled to be broadcast in HDTV and 5.1 during the 2000-01 season, Dolby said.