The nation's professional audiophiles, those who can detect the slightest change in sound quality, descended on San Francisco last week for the Audio Engineering Society's annual U.S. convention. San Francisco is also home to Dolby Laboratories, the leading player in audio-encoding and -decoding technology. The show coincided with the selection of Dolby's Digital Plus technology as an audio standard for the HD-DVD format. Tom Daily, Dolby's professional audio marketing director, discussed the migration to 5.1-surround sound by broadcasters and the home-video market with B&C's Ken Kerschbaumer.
What makes Dolby Digital Plus so attractive to future DVD formats?
Dolby Digital Plus satisfies the needs of high-def packaged media where bandwidth is not as constrained and for broadcast applications where bandwidth is constrained. In the HD-DVD formats, the studios want to add more features and audio channels to the disk. They also want to increase the audio quality while maintaining compatibility with current home theaters in the market.
Will the listener hear a big difference?
The features will make the difference. Today, packaged media is limited to the content on the disk. But Dolby Digital Plus allows them to bring in an external streamed audio file. A director could add another voiceover or, later, add an actor who wants to talk but isn't available when the disk is released. That audio track could be on a Web site, and the HD-DVD player could be connected to that Web site. The user would then pay a small fee and get the commentary mixed in with the regular feature.
Is there a push-pull between what broadcasters are doing with HD and what the home-video market does?
Yes. Broadcasters have raised the bar on video quality available to consumers in the home. Other parts of the business want to be able to match or even exceed that capability.
Speaking of broadcasters, how is the migration to 5.1-surround sound progressing?
This year, there is a ton of 5.1 content. ABC started it six years ago, and now CBS is doing its sporting events in 5.1. Fox is doing the baseball playoffs in 5.1. And NBC launched 5.1 with the Olympics, and now they're doing taped programs in 5.1.
What does this movement mean to you from a business standpoint?
We see this as an enabler for the industry, something that is a part of HD and packaged with it. It's not a huge business for us, but it continues to be strong. The first networks that came on were networks like HBO, Showtime and Starz. Next came the broadcast networks. The WB will start including 5.1 when it broadcasts The Lord of the Rings
Does this make a broadcast facility more complicated?
It all depends on the network, but it's usually a set-and- forget solution. It's often controlled by automation systems upstream or internal logs. So if a local station goes on-air, it will typically buy one or two pieces of gear from us. Then after it's configured, it runs on its own.