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Four Suppliers To Support XM’s Neural Surround

At least four home audio companies will support the launch of XM Satellite Radio’s planned surround channels in the coming months with A/V receivers that incorporate Neural Surround decoders to deliver the channels in discrete 5.1-channel surround.

Select analog and digital FM stations have also begun limited 5.1-channel broadcasting using the technology, created by Kirkland, Wash.-based Neural Audio.

The quartet of suppliers planning Neural-decoding XM-ready receivers are Denon, Pioneer, Onkyo and Yamaha, with Pioneer planning March deliveries of the $299-suggested retail XM-ready VSX-816-K/-S that it is demonstrating. Neural executives said the other three companies would also deliver A/V receivers in the same time frame to support XM’s plans in March to begin 5.1-channel broadcasting 24/7 on two channels and to offer a variety of special shows and live performances in the stereo-compatible format. Neural said the receivers would be priced from $299 to around $2,000. Neural also said Pioneer plans to offer Neural decoding in OEM and after-market car radios at a later date.

For its part, Yamaha confirmed plans to offer Neural in 2006 and plans announcements in February or March.

Yamaha’s receivers, like the others, would decode Neural broadcasts from select terrestrial FM stations, including affiliates of NPR, which has recorded and broadcast events in 5.1. Select Infinity stations have also broadcast in Neural Surround, Neural said.

Neural stressed that its technology provides fully discrete full-range channels, and it expects widespread adoption in the home and car, given that the Neural algorithm can be loaded on the same DSPs that incorporate Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoding, said Neural chairman Paul Hubert. Neural’s required MIPs (millions of instructions per second) are only slightly greater than Dolby Pro Logic’s, he said. Neural works in all new audio DSPs from such companies as Freescale, TI and Analog Devices.

Neural Surround works like this:

In the two-channel mix-down of 5.1-channel source material, Neural embeds a continuous watermark in the audio waveform without affecting the sound quality of the two-channel broadcast, Hubert said. The watermark is up-mixed by the Neural decoder.

The watermark can also be decoded by existing 5.1 matrix-surround Dolby Pro Logic II and Circle Surround II decoders, but a Neural decoder delivers better separation and stability, Hubert claimed. As an example of stability, he said the location of a voice won’t be pulled toward the channel with the dominant music passage.

Neural decoders also up-mix any two-channel material, including CDs, to 5.1 channels, although the best effects are delivered when an encoded program is decoded.