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Neural-THX Aims To Broaden 7.1 Gaming

Neural-THX Surround technology is on track for a fall debut of game software that will enable 7.1 discrete audio channels to pass through a S/PDIF digital output to a component-based 7.1-channel audio system.

Neural-THX Surround “provides an accessible way for consumers to experience 7.1 audio regardless of setup or hardware constraints,” a THX spokesman said. The home theater system, however, must be equipped with an A/V receiver that incorporates Neural-THX decoding, which enables 7.1 discrete channels of audio to pass through an S/PDIF connection.

Neural-THX decoding, which appears in THX-certified receivers and noncertified receivers down to an everyday $299, will enable avid gamers to hear audio cues coming from all around them, including from behind, THX said. The first Neural-THX-encoded game will be Sierra Entertainment’s Prototype,a first-person shooter game for the PC, Xbox360 and PS3 platforms.

Neural-THX Surround delivers 7.1-channel audio cues through a wide range of component-audio systems and through all game platforms, THX said. The company cited the availability of THX-Neural Surround decoders and S/PDIF inputs in A/V receivers priced down to an everyday $299. The company also cited the lack of 7.1-capable HDMI outputs on the Xbox 360 and most PCs, not to mention the lack of HDMI inputs on current entry-level 7.1-channel A/V receivers.

Some manufacturers put HDMI outputs on PC graphics cards, but support for audio over the HDMI is still limited, THX said.

The PlayStation3 console features an HDMI output, and a few PS3 titles, including Lair, are encoded in 7.1-channel PCM, THX said. The PS3 console features an HDMI output, and at least one PS3 title, Resistance Fall of Man, is encoded in 7.1-channel PCM.

Neural THX works like this: A Neural-THX software encoder resides in the game software to mix down the game’s 7.1-channel compressed-PCM soundtrack to 5.1. (Neural-THX technology can also downmix 7.1 and 5.1 soundtracks to stereo.) The down-mixed 5.1 soundtrack contains an embedded continuous watermark that incorporates full-range audio in the side-surround channels for two discrete back-surround channels. As is currently the case, a real-time Dolby Digital or DTS encoder in a PC or game platform mixes the multichannel-PCM soundtrack to Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 so it can pass through a standard digital S/PDIF output. If a Neural-encoded PCM soundtrack is converted to Dolby Digital, the resulting Dolby Digital or DTS mix will also contain the back-channel information. The audio stream is then decoded by an A/V receiver’s Dolby Digital decoder to 5.1, then up-mixed by the receiver’s Neural decoder to 7.1.

HDMI outputs would otherwise be needed to transport a game’s uncompressed multichannel PCM soundtrack, whether the soundtrack is in 5.1- or 7.1-channel form.

The proliferation of 7.1-channel game software playable through a wide variety of component-audio sound systems will give component audio suppliers an opportunity to further broaden their potential customer base, THX said. The company cited a recent survey of U.S. gamers by Nielsen NRG, which found that more than 48 percent of Xbox 360 and 54 percent of PS3 consoles are connected to multichannel home theater systems.