SMR - CEDIA UK Expo. 2000

The 109th AES Convention ~ a Report by ~ Page 13 of 15

AES Exhibits showcased diverse audio technologies of interest to both consumer and pro audio, ranging from hardware advancements to exotic surround processing formats.

At the Dolby Laboratories booth, a headset/PC station allowed listeners to compare an uncompressed audio source against the effects of Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), the new audio CODEC developed by adopted by AT&T, Dolby Laboratories, Fraunhofer IIS, and Sony Corporation and adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as part of the MPEG specification. The developers claim that compared to the popular MPEG Layer-3 (MP3), AAC provides significantly higher-quality audio yet requires approximately 30 percent less storage space and bandwidth.

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While the showroom test conditions were admittedly not conclusive, the results were impressive--in most cases indistinguishable from uncompressed source material at the highest 128kb/s bitrate (lower bitrates introduced predictably more audible signal degradation and compression artifacts). The sound was so close to CD-quality, that without immediate A/B comparison, even critical listeners will be hard-pressed to tell they're listening to a digitally compressed source.

Developed for broadcast, Internet, and other electronic music-distribution applications, AAC is currently in use by industry powerhouses. An adjacent display showcased various processor chip and product implementations such as AAC-compatible personal from major consumer electronics manufacturers expected appear on retail shelves in time for this holiday season.

Another exotic Dolby marketing effort is Dolby Headphone, a technique that delivers 5.1 and matrix-encoded material in surround sound through conventional stereo headphones. Australia's Lake Technology, the original developer from whom Dolby licensed the process, has developed a PC software version of Dolby Headphone compatible with DVD Video playback software on PCs, as well as an in-flight delivery system for airline passengers. A demo of "Super Speedway" convincingly situated the surround channels farther back in virtual space, though the frontal array never moved completely forward. The developers acknowledge this limitation, claiming that competing visual cues hinder the illusion, advising the best approach is to "ease back and relax into it."

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The perpetual underdog in the multichannel format wars, DTS, demonstrated music recordings using its discrete encode/decode format, using the ubiquitous Genelecs in a 5.1 configuration. Sound quality was excellent, but as in many other demos using the traditional surround placement at 110, gaps in the soundfield undermined a sense of continuous envelopment (this is not a limitation of DTS per se, but all 5.1 formats). Curiously absent was any opportunity to experience the new DTS ES 6.1 Discrete format, which utilizes a pair of rear speakers in addition to sides. When I asked about this, David Delgrosso of DTS explained that he wanted to focus on current pro audio formats. "People are confused enough about 5.1," he said.

Ain't that the truth!


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