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Surround Music Supersession

Click for a Larger VersionThe purpose of this session was to discuss the future of surround music formats. There were several presentations from various sectors of the music recording business. Fritz Koenig of TMH kicked the session off with a brief introduction to the event. Tom Holman followed with a brief history of TMH's 10.2 format and some interesting statistics: about 35% of US households (about 35 million households) have some sort of multi-channel/home theatre system and the balance is rapidly shifting to discrete 5.1 systems from matrixed systems. As a measure of how fast the DVD format is growing Tom offered this interesting metric: The Academy of Motion Picture Sciences requires that voters receive either a DVD or VHS copy of all nominated movies, the choice being up to the individual voter. Last year 300 voters opted for a DVD versions, this year... 2,400. So it seems the Academy voters are slowly catching up with their audience! Tom is firmly of the view that the future of recorded music is multichannel.

There followed a presentation on the DVD-A mastering process. Particularly interesting was the explanation of the huge amount of work that goes into such a production from recording, studio mastering, preparation and testing of the non-music content of the disc including video (if any) and menu flowcharting and structure, encoding of the various soundtracks which could include Dolby Digital, Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) and DTS, creating the instruction set for the player to produce a 2-channel downmix if required etc. The audio and video encoding alone can be a 24 hour process, followed by extensive quality control, before production of the final digital tape from which the DVD press master is produced. This certainly gave me an insight into the process and the complex work required. It also explained why sometimes DVDs can contain glitches. One hiccup anywhere in the process which is not caught in QC can be an expensive disaster!

Herbie Hancock - Click for a Larger VersionBy far the most illuminating presentation was by musician, writer and producer extraordinaire, Herbie Hancock. Herbie has seen the potential for multichannel music for many years and he had a message for those who insist that multichannel cannot sound natural: When you turn off your system what do you hear? The sounds of the real world: maybe cars passing in the street, birds singing, people talking and where do all those sounds come from? All around you. That is natural! Herbie's presentation included two breathtaking demonstration pieces. The first was the title track from the 1995 release 'Dis is da Drum'. Interestingly when Herbie was putting the album together in the early 90s he conceived it as a multichannel recording but the record company insisted that it be released in stereo. I guess a matrixed stereo mix would have been the only alternative. To create the additional channels, the two channel version was processed using TMHs "virtual microphone" algorithm outputting 10.2 channels, which were recorded onto a hard drive for the demonstration. Even from my non-ideal seat near the Rear Right speaker it was an impressive sounding demo and the before and after comparison between stereo and 10.2 was like night and day. Herbie's second demo was 'Butterfly' from the 1974 release 'Thrust'. The original analogue master tapes were used to create the 10.2 demo and Tom Holman himself produced mix. Again an extraordinary demonstration of this system.

They have me convinced. Multichannel music is the future.

To the right, Tom Holman, the man himself, in front of the center speaker used in the Surround Music demonstration, a PMC BB5 XBD. All the crossovers were managed by a 10B PMC active crossover and each driver driven by its own PMC modified Bryston amplifier the tweeter by a 3B PMC (150w), midrange by a 4B PMC (250w) and each of the 15" bass drivers fuelled by a 7B producing 1400w!

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A stack of PMC modified Bryston 7Bs and 8Bs driving the right rear loudspeaker in the TMH 10.2 demonstration system.

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The speakers to the right constitute the right rear channel - the direct radiator is a PMC MB1 XBD and the dipole behind it a THM creation. The channel was switched between direct and dipole depending on the source material playing at the time.

The session's single subwoofer, custom built for TMH Corproation, was an enlarged version of the Profunder series from Australian speaker manufacturer Whise. Using the company's patented Parametric Acoustic Modeling design, the sub handled all frequencies below 16Hz.

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To indicate the scale of the thing, next to it stands Graeme Huon, Managing Director of Whise Precision Audio. About the size of the old Mini motor car, the Whise breaks into three sections for manoeuvrability - so no problem getting this down my basement stairs. Maybe I need two for Bass Enhance?

We'd like to thank Keith Tonge of PMC (UK) for helping put together this report, he graciously provided an advance equipment list and system configuration. []

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Show report last updated: 23rd April 2001. 276 original images on-line.


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