New Surround Formats at CES
MP3 Surround encodes 5.1 channels of audio at bit rates comparable to those currently used for 2-channel MP3 files, resulting in file sizes roughly half that of other multichannel compression formats. This makes it ideal for applications such as online surround-music distribution, broadcasting, PC-based AV and gaming, etc. The new format is completely backward compatible with existing MP3 software and hardware. Free evaluation software (for Windows and Mac OSX) and sample files are available for downloading here.
Another interesting introduction at CES is Dolby Digital Plus. This extension of Dolby Digital can support up to 13.1 discrete channels of audio at bit rates up to 6Mbps, which is ideal for the new high-bandwidth blue-laser disc formats. It also offers more efficient coding to achieve much lower bit rates for bandwidth-limited applications, such as cable, satellite, and terrestrial broadcasting. Another interesting addition is the ability to stream audio from the Internet in sync with local disc playback, which will let you watch a movie on DVD while listening to audio streamed from the studio's Web site and mixed with the disc's audio track. Yet DD Plus is fully backward compatible with good ol' Dolby Digital, which is as it should be.
Both of these introductions follow on the heels of DTS-HD, which was first announced last October. Unlike DD Plus and MP3 Surround (not to mention standard Dolby Digital and DTS), DTS-HD is a lossless compression scheme, which means that no audio information is discarded. According to the company, DTS-HD can support a virtually unlimited number of discrete audio channels and is designed for the upcoming Blu-ray and HD DVD disc formats. DTS-HD will also be demonstrated at CES, so it should be very interesting to learn more about all of these new surround formats.