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Cinema sound at home and away

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 04 September, 2006  (Technical Article)
The sound emerging from home cinemas and digital radios will soon be almost as good as that of a movie theater. At the international consumer electronics exhibition IFA in Berlin, Fraunhofer researchers presented the technology that makes it possible.
Television in top cinema quality, the new high-definition TV sets go a long way towards making this dream come true. But another essential element of the right atmosphere is the right sound, and this is now delivered by developers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen. “We combine the existing MPEG-4 AVC video data compression standard with our own audio coding methods, enabling us to transfer video and audio files at low data rates, but in superlative quality. Our goal is to achieve picture and sound quality on a par with that experienced by movie-goers, for all TV programs including live transmissions”, states Matthias Rose of the Fraunhofer IIS.

Surround sound is what makes it possible, providing an audio experience very similar to that of the movie theater. “The transition from stereo to surround is rather like the transition from mono to stereo back in the 1960s”, claims Matthias Rose. For radio and television broadcasters, this means they have to transmit large amounts of data. But this costs money: the greater the volume of data, the higher the price. The present compression methods deliver excellent sound, but often require large amounts of data in order to do so, or conversely, they deliver a less satisfactory quality of sound at lower data rates. MPEG Surround has no such problems: This enhanced format for audio coding enables 5.1 surround sound to be stored at very low data rates. The principle behind it is simple: When the signal is encoded, the audio surround data are converted into a stereo signal, while any accompanying surround-sound information such as frequency variations between the channels is saved as compact auxiliary data. This enables the original sound to be almost fully reproduced when the files are decoded. “At the same time, this format allows conventional players to reproduce stereo sound as usual”, says Rose. The Fraunhofer IIS developers demonstrated the new combination of MPEG Surround and DAB digital radio in September at the International Consumer Electronics Exhibition IFA in Berlin: Visitors to the fair were able to gain their own impression of surround-sound radio.

The MP3 family will soon enjoy surround-sound reinforcement as well: The “MP3 Surround” extension can store surround-sound music at bit rates hitherto only possible for stereo MP3. The files that it produces can be played back on any MP3 player.
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