Report - October, 1996
Dolby Surround Sound Update #7
By Bill Barnes
Developments in computer audio technologies
and systems have continued at a hectic pace throughout this year,
and there appears to be no sign of a slowdown in the foreseeable
future. Meanwhile, the major rollout of DVD players and discs
originally scheduled for this month has been delayed until
November or December, with some companies holding their
introductions until next spring. In this issue we'll outline the
latest DVD introduction plans and discuss recent uses of Dolby
technologies in the computer market.
Will DVD players and discs be on store shelves by this Christmas? The answer is a definite maybe. As the end of the year approaches, some of the major hardware manufacturers have revised their rollout plans and are now targeting spring of 1997 for their DVD introductions. Why the delay? On a technical level, several companies are ready to mass produce players and discs, but the discussions of copy protection and regional coding issues have taken longer than expected. This has caused both Sony and Philips to announce that they will delay their DVD introductions until next spring, with their first products expected to be available in March.. Meanwhile, Hitachi, Matsushita, Pioneer, and Toshiba have announced that they will move ahead with plans to introduce players this year.
Matsushita has announced that it will launch DVD players in Japan in November of this year, with a US release a few weeks later. The Japanese players are expected to be priced at around 70,000 yen (about $650). In a separate statement, Panasonic announced plans for a February launch of DVD players in Germany. Matsushita has presented three DVD systems to the press, a basic DVD player priced at around $739 for the Japanese market, a step-up model with a Dolby Digital surround sound decoder for around $900, and a 28-inch 16:9 aspect-ratio wide screen TV/DVD-player combo that will be priced at about $2,400. Matsushita plans to initially make 30,000 DVD players and 10,000 combo TV/DVD products a month, and they expect about 50 DVD movie titles to be available by year end.
Toshiba also plans to introduce DVD players in Japan in early November, and has announced plans to release a PC with an internal DVD ROM drive by the end of the year.
Pioneer has announced that it will launch four DVD players in Japan in November and December with prices starting at 83,000 yen (about $755) for the basic player, the DV-7. The first model is planned to be available in Japan on November 22, with an initial production of 4,000 units per month. The top-of-line model, the DVK-1000 DVD/laserdisc karaoke combo, will be introduced in early December at 248,000 yen (about $2,250). In addition to these models, Pioneer also plans to ship the first DVD players to the US in December of this year. Pioneer has estimated that the industry will sell 400,000 DVD players worldwide in first 12 months, with sales of 11 million units possible by the year 2000. They have also estimated potential worldwide sales of 500,000 DVD ROM drives in first year, growing to 54 million drives in the year 2000.
Most of the major movie companies have been quiet recently about their plans to release DVD titles, and major announcements are not expected until the copyright issues are finalized. In the meantime, CD replicators have been preparing for full scale DVD production
The Warner Advanced Media Operations replication plant in Olyphant, PA, is reportedly "running large orders" of discs which are not encrypted with copy protection. Nimbus CD International, in Charlottesville, VA, has started pilot production of DVD discs and expects to produce discs for sale this fall. Nimbus expects to initially produce about 20,000 DVD discs per day. Matsushita has announced that it will begin producing DVD discs at JVC Disc America plants in Sacramento, CA, and Tuscaloosa, AL. JVC Disc America began accepting DVD orders in September and expects to begin sample shipments in November. Full scale production will begin in April of 1997, with initial production expected to be 600,000 discs per month. Pioneer Video Manufacturing in Carson, CA, is scheduled to receive the hardware necessary for reading copy protected DVDs on October 15, and should be able to begin DVD production soon after that date.
Dolby Surround for Multimedia
Developments in computer audio have continued at a rapid pace over the past few months. Several companies have announced new Dolby Surround and Dolby Digital products for computers and a new system for Internet audio, called Dolby Net, has made it's debut. Many of these new developments were announced and demonstrated at the recent Interactive Multimedia Association (IMA) show in New York.
Dolby Surround CD ROMs and Video Games
The production of Dolby Surround multimedia titles will receive a boost this November, when Avid Technology will begin selling Dolby Surround encoder and decoder TDM Plug-Ins for Digidesign Pro Tools workstations. The availability of Dolby Surround encoding on a workstation is expected to simplify the surround mixing process for multimedia producers by eliminating the need for an outboard hardware encoder. Dolby is currently talking to other companies about including Dolby Surround encoding in other audio editing and production software packages.
Several new CD ROMs and video games have been produced in Dolby Surround in recent months, and there are now more than 35 titles available for a variety of platforms. NovaLogic recently released their first Dolby Surround CD ROM, F-22 Lightning II, while Electronic Arts has added Soviet Strike to their catalog of Dolby Surround video games. The latest list of Dolby Surround CD ROMs and video games is included below.
|Argonaut UK/Jaleco||King Arthur's World||Super Nintendo|
|Shockwave II Beyond the Gate||3DO|
|Shockwave Operation JumpGate||3DO|
|FIFA International Soccer||3DO|
|FIFA 96||Sony PlayStation|
|PGA Tour 96||3DO|
|Foes of Ali||3DO|
|Wing Commander III||3DO/PlayStation|
|Wing Commander IV||CD-ROM|
|Need For Speed||3DO/PlayStation|
|Star Wars Rebel Assault||3DO|
|Europress Software||Journey to the Centre of the Earth||CD-ROM|
|Hunchback of Notre Dame||CD-ROM|
|Interplay Productions||Descent II||CD-ROM|
|NovaLogic||F-22 Lightning II||CD-ROM|
|Ocean Software||Jurassic Park I & II||Super Nintendo|
|Prolific Publishing||Return Fire|
|Psygnosis||Lemmings 3D||Sony PlayStation/CD-ROM|
|Mickey Mania||Sony PlayStation|
|Assault Rigs||Sony Playstation|
|Krazy Ivan||Sony PlayStation|
|Virgin Interactive||New game, unreleased||CD-ROM|
Dolby Surround Multimedia
Aureal Semiconductor has introduced a new IC designed for Dolby Surround Multimedia products. Called the VSP901 Virtual Surround Processor, the IC enables playback of Dolby Surround encoded soundtracks using only a single pair of speakers. The VSP901 contains a Dolby Pro Logic decoder, which extracts the four channels from the Dolby Surround soundtrack, plus Aureal 3D (A3D) surround processing which creates a "virtual surround" effect using just two speakers. The IC can be built into a computer monitor with speakers, contained in add-on speakers, or included on a plug-in sound card. VSP901 evaluation boards are currently available, and sample ICs will be available in the fourth quarter of this year. The Aureal A3D process joins other virtual surround processes by Matsushita and JVC which have been approved by Dolby for use in Dolby Surround Multimedia products.
Dolby Digital for Multimedia
With the upcoming introduction of DVD, companies are working quickly to bring products to market which can take advantage of the high quality MPEG-2 video and Dolby Digital audio that the format will offer. Significant computing power will be required to decode the compressed video and audio, so a variety of decoding options will be required. For existing 486 and slower Pentium machines, add-on decoding hardware will typically be required, especially for the processor-intensive video decompression. This will most likely come in the form of a plug-in video card which will perform the MPEG-2 video decoding. It is likely that DVD plug-in cards will be offered which will handle both the video and audio decoding, thus freeing the CPU for other tasks. For fast Pentiums and new MMX-equipped machines it will be possible to perform software decoding of both video and audio on the main CPU without additional hardware.
Dolby Digital Decoding Hardware
Altec Lansing, makers of the first Dolby Surround Multimedia speaker systems, have announced that they plan to bring their first Dolby Digital (AC-3) speaker system to market in the first quarter of 1997. Priced at about $500, the system will be designed for use with PCs and will include six speakers; left, center and right satellite speakers, two wireless surround speakers, plus a subwoofer. Altec also plans to introduce a high-end model with a 12-inch subwoofer, priced under $1,000, later in the year. These systems will allow computer users to enjoy full multichannel surround sound from DVD movies, DVD ROMs, and other Dolby Digital sources. The systems will include the new Universal Serial Bus (USB) interface, which will allow continuous real time streaming of digital audio from USB-equipped computers. This will make Altec Lansing the first company to produce USB-equipped computer speakers. In addition, the systems will include software which will provide on-screen user controls.
Dolby Digital Decoding Software
As computers become more and more powerful and 100+ MHz Pentium processors become standard equipment, it will be possible to run powerful audio processing algorithms on the computer's main CPU. This trend is already well underway as evidenced by CompCore Multimedia's recent announcement of SoundPEG-2, a software-based Dolby Digital decoder for PCs. This software can be used with CompCore's MPEG-2 video decoder software for the playback of DVD movies and DVD ROMs. SoundPEG-2 supports full 5.1 channel Dolby Digital decoding and is compatible with existing PC sound cards. When used with a sound card which offers only two channel stereo output, SoundPEG-2 decodes the 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack and down-mixes it to a two channel Dolby Surround soundtrack. This allows the user to listen in normal stereo, or use an add-on Dolby Surround Pro Logic or Dolby Surround Multimedia decoder for surround sound without the need to buy a new sound card. SoundPEG-2 will run on most current PCs, including the Intel 486 and Pentium processors. Decoding a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack on a 100 MHz Pentium processor uses approximately 35% of the CPU, while the same decoding on a 200 MHz Pentium (a P55C), requires only about 17% of the CPU. SoundPEG-2 software developer kits are now available for OEM developers from CompCore, and ActiveMovie versions of SoundPEG-2 will be available later this year.
SoundPEG-2 will be used in CompCore's SoftDVD, a complete software package which will allow PCs to play DVD movies and DVD ROMs. SoftDVD will be available in two configurations; an all-software version, and a combination software and hardware version. The all-software version requires an Intel MMX processor and performs all Dolby Digital audio decoding and MPEG-2 video decoding without additional hardware. It is expected to be available in the first quarter of 1997. The combination software and hardware version of SoftDVD takes advantage of dedicated MPEG-2 video decoding ICs, and can run on any Pentium processor. It can also be used in combination with dedicated Dolby Digital decoding ICs.
DVD Decoding Card for PCs
Zoran Corp., the world's leading supplier of Dolby Digital ICs, has announced the availability of the Zoran DVD4PC reference design board. This board will enable many OEM and PC manufacturers to significantly shorten the development time of their DVD products. Zoran are currently working with many of the leading PC manufacturers and OEMs, and several companies are expected to announce DVD-ready PCs and products in the near future. The DVD4PC reference design board includes Dolby Digital decoding, a PCI multimedia controller, Windows 95/Windows 3.1 software drivers, and an MPEG-2 video decoder on a single PCI card. The DVD4PC design can include two different Zoran ICs for Dolby Surround decoding; the Zoran ZR38521 for two-channel sound, or the ZR38500 for 5.1 channel Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic. The board uses Zoran's ZR36120 PCI controller to integrate the audio and MPEG-2 video functions on one plug-in board.
Dolby Digital on the Internet
Liquid Audio, a relatively new company formed by veterans of the music industry and professional recording engineers, has developed a unique system which will allow customers to preview and purchase CD-quality music over the Internet. In addition to previewing music in real time, users will be able to purchase and download musical selections using Dolby Digital coding. The system integrates copyright control features and automatically logs purchases so that royalty payments to record companies, publishers, and artists can be easily tracked. It is expected that the system will support CD-R recording in early 1997, so that users can easily record their own compact discs of purchased musical selections. The audio encoding and mastering software, called Liquifier, will be available around November 15 at a cost of $300. The server software will start at $200 for a single stream and will decrease to $100 per stream for higher quantities. The system will first be available for listening on November 1 on Music Boulevard.
There has been much interest over the past year in real time, streaming audio over the Internet using 28.8 kbps modems. Systems which provide this capability, such as Progressive Network's RealAudio, have been introduced and are now being widely used in the market. As we have discussed in previous issues, the Dolby Digital AC-3 coding system can operate at a variety of data rates, and there has been significant interest in developing a version of Dolby Digital which could be used for this application. After months of intense development effort Dolby has introduced Dolby Net, a special low bit rate version of Dolby Digital which provides high quality stereo audio in real time over the Internet. This technology recently made its debut in the form of Progressive Network's RealAudio System 3.0, which uses Dolby Net to deliver stereo sound over 28.8 kbps modems and near-CD-quality sound over ISDN and LAN connections. RealAudio 3.0 is now available from Progressive Networks' Web site at www.realaudio.com. More than 40 companies are currently planning to offer program material utilizing RealAudio 3.0, including major record labels Sony, Warner Bros., Polygram, BMG and MCA, Internet music sites including AudioNet, SonicNet and ENSO/Muzak, radio networks Evergreen and Infinity, and national broadcasting companies including CBS Radio, NBC, ABC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC). On September 17, CBC became the first national public broadcasting company to use RealAudio 3.0, with the first stereo Internet broadcasts beginning around the first of October.
The audio quality of Dolby Net was recently tested at Seattle's KING-FM 98.1, where a RealAudio 3.0 signal taken directly from the Internet was broadcast over the air. Peter Newman, general manager and program director at KING-FM, stated "Our audience consists mainly of experienced classical music listeners who demand the best in audio quality. Our listeners couldn't tell the difference!" The music used in the test was encoded using the ISDN-rate encoder, and played back from a RealAudio server located at Progressive Networks.
The Interactive Multimedia Association (IMA) Show
Dolby Laboratories recently took advantage of the first IMA trade show, held at Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, September 17-19, to showcase the many uses of Dolby technologies in the computer marketplace. Dolby's demonstrations included a DVD disc of movie clips with Dolby Digital soundtracks played back in a Toshiba DVD player and in an Intel PC equipped with a DVD ROM drive. The movie clips were played back through a state-of-the-art home theater system, and illustrated the fact that DVD will bring a new level of audio and video performance to the computer world. Other demonstrations included Dolby Surround CD ROMs played back using Dolby Pro Logic decoding in a home theater system, and Dolby Surround Multimedia decoding with Aureal's A3D process providing virtual surround over two speakers. Additional demonstrations included new Dolby Surround CD ROMs and video games from NovaLogic and Electronic Arts, Dolby Surround Pro Logic and Dolby Surround Multimedia speaker systems from Altec Lansing, and the Dolby Surround encoder and decoder Plug-Ins for the Digidesign Pro Tools system.
Other companies also demonstrated systems using Dolby technologies at the show, including Progressive Networks, who demonstrated their new RealAudio 3.0 system using Dolby Net, and Sonic Solutions, who demonstrated their DVD Creator DVD mastering system. Sonic Solutions recently announced that Apple and IBM have joined the DVD Production Alliance and will begin work on the first generation of DVD-ROMs using the DVD premastering system developed by Sonic Solutions and Daikin Industries. CompCore also demonstrated their SoundPEG-2 Dolby Digital decoding system at the show, using a PC and a full five speaker surround system.
If you would like to read more about any of Dolby's technologies there are a variety of publications available. Many of these are available on our Web site at http://www.dolby.com, and we encourage interested readers to visit our Web site for further information. Dolby literature may also be requested by sending an e-mail message to email@example.com or by leaving a voice message on Dolby's Literature Hotline at 415-558-0344. Please be sure to include your name and mailing address in your message and specify which technologies you are interested in.
© Copyright 1996 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Other related articles
© Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Return to Table of Contents for this Issue.