5.1 Out, 380 Speaker System In

Just when you finally got your 5.1 speaker system dialed in, Iosono comes out with a system that will totally blow away your old system. Introduced at the 2008 SMPTE Conference, this new system can use from 200 - 500 speakers, completely ringing the viewing area, to create a truly immersive experience.

The system uses three rows of speakers in the array. The top and bottom speakers are woofers, and the middle row are the tweeters. "Up to 32 unique sound objects can be placed in a 3D virtual sound space in the theater," according to the press release from Iosono. 

The system doesn't have a price yet, nor are there any movies mixed for this new format, and for now, it's just designed for theaters, although a few enterprising DIY-ers might take it on as a home project. My recording studio is set-up for 5.1. Guess I better make room for a few hundred more speakers.

The complete press release follows below.

"Just when the industry has begun to accept the idea of Digital Stereoscopic 3D movies, a new way to immerse the audience into the movie is introduced. Normally, a theater speaker system, whether at a movie theater or in a home, has a fairly small "sweet spot" where the sound from all of the speakers line up to produce a good experience. A system that was just installed in one of the Mann Chinese 6 Theaters uses 380 speakers to expand the sweet spot to two-thirds of the seats. The result is a richer and more expansive experience.

The technology comes from Iosono (pronounced ee-oh-soh-noh), and it was introduced at the SMPTE 2008 Tech Conference and Expo in Hollywood. SMPTE is the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, an organization that helps to set standards for Digital Cinema and Digital Television.

While the Mann Theater uses 380 speakers, the technology is flexible enough to handle 200 or 500 speakers to accommodate different theater sizes.The location of each speaker is measured with a laser and used to calibrate the exhibition player software.The speakers are arranged in three rows.The top and bottom rows are woofers, while the middle row is tweeters. Speakers form a ring completely around the theater, including behind the audience and screen.Unlike most theater speaker systems, this system can recreate the sound levels of a rock concert, and must actually be toned down for movie viewing.

Up to 32 unique sound objects can be placed in a 3D virtual sound space in the theater. If one object was placed such that it sounds like it is coming from the 10th seat in from the left in the 10th row, people in the 5th seat will think it is coming from their right. People in the 15th seat will think it is coming from their left. This trick is illustrated using Iosono's Spacial Audio Workstation. By simply moving the mouse to position the object in the theater space the system adjusts in real time to match. The listener can feel the object move about the theater.

Sound can also be programmed to simply come from a "plane," for example, from the left wall. This mode is particularly nice if the movie score is expanded to make the orchestra's music come from all sides. The music is immersive, while characters speaking in the movie are heard to come from the screen. The expanded sound adds more definition to the music and the voices and the experience is given added clarity.

Iosono's inspiration originally came from the Delft Technical University about twenty years ago. Dr. Karlheinz Brandenburg of the Fraunhofer Institut Digitale Medientechnologie in Germany took this research and expanded it into product form. Iosono, based in Hollywood, California, is now approaching studios and theater owners about taking their technology to the next step — deployment.

Uwe Karbenk, Iosono's CEO, does not want to talk about pricing just yet. Things are still a bit early, but they hope to have the first movie mixed for Iosono sound out in 2009. There are also some theme park venues that have already installed the system. And, the Iosono system can emulate a theater's 5.1 speaker system for regular movies.

Theater owners are constantly looking for ways to compete against the home theater system. Many see Digital Stereoscopic 3D as the solution where ticket sales on a 3D screen can be twice the take from a 2D screen. In the future we may hear of an additional weapon — a totally immersive sound experience. This sound experience coupled with Digital Stereoscopic 3D will be quite a treat, if the studios and exhibitors line up behind it."

  —Leslie Shapiro

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