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An object lesson in sound

A revolutionary audio technology could soon replace the sound systems in our homes and cinemas, said Dolby Laboratories in a Residential Solutions Theatre session yesterday.

Object-Based Audio (OBA) uses a new way of coding a movie soundtrack. Instead of mixing sound for multi-channel audio (like a 5.1 or 7.1 sound system), each sound (a car horn or a child laughing) is an object, which can be placed anywhere in a room.

Each object is accompanied by metadata, which describes the sound location. This information is fed to a processor in a cinema, which uses the data to place the sound in exactly the right spot.

The result is a more realistic sound, which can even come from above (think of an aircraft soaring overhead).

Dolby introduced object-based audio to cinemas two years ago with Dolby Atmos, and Brett Crockett, senior director, research sound technology at Dolby Laboratories, says all the major studios have embraced it. Rival audio company DTS has also developed OBA technology.

Object-based audio is now available to consumers. “Developing the technology for the home was challenging, because we wanted the overhead sound to be realistic, without putting speakers in the ceiling,” said Crockett.

The result was the development of floor-mounted speakers, which fire sound up at the ceiling. “We had to hack your hearing to make it work,” added Crockett.

Another benefit of OBA technology is its scalability. An OBA processor counts the speakers in a home audio system and adjusts the sound accordingly.

“Object-based audio is the future,” Crockett told the ISE Daily. “We are really excited by its potential. It’s much more flexible and realistic than multi-channel sound. We think it could replace today’s audio systems within three years.”