Technology : Look out, it's behind you

2019-02-27 02:11:02

By Barry Fox SURROUND sound could be the next big noise in PC technology if a new grouping of major players—including Dolby Laboratories, Microsoft and fifty computer hardware and software companies—bears fruit. Virtual Surround Sound will give the illusion of surround sound from two small, high-quality loudspeakers and a hidden “woofer”, which enhances bass frequencies. It capitalises on the fact that PC users must sit directly in front of the screen. Anyone listening from this position will experience a surround sound effect without the need to have several speakers positioned around the room. Software giant Microsoft has signed a letter of intent with Dolby to develop the technology jointly, while chipmakers Intel, Motorola, Zoran and Analog Devices have all agreed to help integrate the decoder circuits which PCs will need to give surround sound. Speaker maker Altec Lansing has joined the consortium, along with multimedia developers Chromatic Research, MedianiX and CompCore Multimedia. Although it is not yet part of the consortium, the Japanese electronics giant JVC has pioneered attempts to create a surround sound effect from two speakers. Sending some of the left channel sound through the right speaker in the opposite phase cancels the sound in certain parts of the room. So the left ear hears less of what is intended for the right ear and so on. The problem with such a system for hi-fis is that you only get the full effect if you sit in just the right position. PC users, on the other hand, stay glued to their screens. Multimedia PCs can reproduce prerecorded music and speech, but during a fast-action game, for example, Virtual Surround Sound would also have to reproduce special sound effects to match the action on screen. These effects must be attributed to a position in the surround sound field and blended with any prerecorded music or speech. Dolby is working on the assumption that as PCs get more powerful, they will one day be able to process both surround sound and picture in real time. Hardware designers also face difficulties,