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Surround Sources Grow On Disc, On Air

Dealers eager to promote surround-sound gear are getting an assist from broadcasters, cable networks, and Hollywood studios, which are increasing consumers’ access to surround-sound movies and TV programs.

During the 2001-2002 TV season, more than 300 current and syndicated TV series, specials, and regular events were scheduled for broadcast in Dolby Surround over terrestrial analog TV stations, Dolby Labs said. During the 1999-2000 season, in contrast, only 180 such programs were broadcast in Dolby Surround.

In addition, more than 13,000 theatrical films recorded in surround sound can be broadcast in surround over stations equipped with stereo transmitters. As of January 2001, according to the 2001 Broadcasting & Cable yearbook, 690 of the nation’s 1,663 operating terrestrial TV stations were broadcasting in stereo.

The selection of sources equipped with 5.1-channel soundtracks is also growing, and there are more opportunities to deliver that content to home theater owners, Dolby and Difital Theater Systems (DTS) said.

Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, not available on prerecorded VHS tapes, are available on a growing number of DVD discs. The number of U.S.-market DVD discs featuring Dolby Digital 5.1 grew to 3,450 DVDs as of February 2002, up from 940 in February 2000, Dolby said. DTS 5.1 was available on 395 titles as of January 2002, up from 40 in 2000, DTS said.

5.1-channel TV sound: A growing number of digital standard-definition TV (SDTV) and high-definition TV (HDTV) programs are also delivering Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Some 5.1 programming is available through digital satellite-TV broadcasters DirecTv and EchoStar.

Since launching 5.1-channel surround in mid-1998 over its SDTV pay-per-view service, DirecTV has made several movies available per week in 5.1 through its pay-per-view channels, and EchoStar is delivering about the same number of 5.1 SDTV movies per week through its pay-per-view service, Dolby said.

The two satellite broadcasters also deliver select HDTV programming in 5.1, and they pass through 5.1 signals transmitted by select content providers, including HBO, Showtime, and Starz!

By early 2002, Showtime had scheduled 26 movies and four weekly series in 5.1 for its 2001-2002 season, Dolby said. Starz! has aired more than 75 movies in 5.1, with more than 20 scheduled for the 2001-2002 season, Dolby added.

Last July, HBO’s primary channel inaugurated Dolby Digital 5.1 programming, having previously offered 5.1 through its HDTV service.

The 5.1 content originated or transmitted by such cable networks as HBO, Showtime and Starz! can also be heard in 5.1 through digital cable services, whose subscribership is growing. By February 2002, more than 9 million households subscribed to digital cable service, up from a year-ago 3 million, Dolby added.

Dolby also estimates that more than nine million U.S. households will be equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 home receivers at the end of 2001.

Terrestrial DTV: Still more 5.1 programming is available through a growing number of terrestrial DTV stations. By early 2002, around 120 of 249 terrestrial DTV stations on the air were delivering 5.1-channel surround, Dolby said. In early 2001, in contrast, only 90 of 177 terrestrial DTV stations were delivering 5.1 sound.

As of early this year, NBC had joined the ABC and PBS networks in delivering 5.1-channel surround to their affiliates. And Fox broadcast the 2002 Super Bowl in 5.1 in select cities.

Between these networks and the satellite providers, at least 100 series, movies, and special events announced as of early 2002 were scheduled to be broadcast in HDTV and 5.1 during the 2001-2002 season, up from 64, Dolby said.

EX, ES sources: The supply of DVD movies encoded in next-generation digital surround is also growing, though slowly.

As of early this year, 32 DVDs were available in Dolby Digital Surround EX (Extended), up from 13, and 25 titles were available with DTS Extended Surround (ES), up from 12, during the year-ago period.

Both 6.1 formats add a back center channel to a 5.1-channel home theater system.

EX appeared for the first time in theaters with the debut of Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace DVD in late 1999, and DTS ES appeared on disc for the first time in 2000.