While at CES 2010 we had the chance to stop by and talk to the folks at Dolby. While we were there we saw some impressive audio technology including the new Pro Logic IIz that finally brings height to your listening experience. This is an impressive technology and the demo was great to listen to. After the demo of the home theater experience we were able to talk with one of the Dolby engineers and as a few questions just to see how Dolby sees themselves in the market.
Our first question was one that I have been thinking about for a while; how does Dolby view the resurgence of analog audio in the market? Dolby?s response is that they are not concerned with equipment that is used to present the audio to the listener, but are more concerned with getting it to that equipment in with the least amount of signal loss and distortion. They acknowledge that Digital Audio is always going to fall inside [or actually under] the same wave form curve that an analog signal provides, but they also say that their technology can come so close to the original analog wave form that most people will not be able to note the difference. Dolby went on to explain that they are still supporting traditional analog outputs for those that want to send their digital audio to a Tube Amp [like I do]. Their [Dolby?s] primary focus will continue to be finding ways to push high-quality, rich audio over the increasingly smaller pipes offered by today?s digital world.
Our second question was about the emerging single and dual driver ?surround? sets that are coming out. Strangely enough this question was answered in the same way as the first. To put it mildly, Dolby does not care what you use to listen to your audio; they are only concerned with getting the highest quality signal to those devices.
Next up was a demo of Axon. Axon is Dolby?s 3D Positional Audio layer for Team Speak. It allows the voices from players to be tagged to their in-game character and follow them in the 3D environment. Dolby has decided to create two versions; one will be in the form of an SDK that can be embedded into a game prior to its release while the other is a form of middleware for use with games that do not have native support. So no matter the game you have you can enjoy this technology. It was quite impressive to listen to and see.
But while we were looking at this we noticed something was missing from both Axon and from Pro Logic IIz and we began to think; why is there no rear center channel? We asked this direct question and almost laughed when we got the answer. Apparently Dolby feels that people cannot hear sounds directly behind them. They feel that even if someone was there and making noise or talking it would sound like it was from one side or the other. I found this extremely shortsighted and just plain wrong. If this were true then the front Center channel would also not be needed as the two front speakers would be able to handle the sound from directly in front of someone. I can also attest to being able to hear sound from directly behind me, it is distinct and different from noise that comes from behind and to the left or right. The human ear/brain combination is an amazing tool and it more than capable of determining audio direction. I think Dolby needs to head back to the lab and do some more research on this for both the home theater and for the gaming environment. For now their surround sound offerings while still very good, will remain conspicuously quite in that area.