Scents Enhance Realism of Home Theater Experience

Widescreen pictures and 5.1-channel audio will soon be accompanied by stenches, scents, fragrances, and aromas. Parfum Recherche SA, a Paris-based olfactory research firm, has announced a partnership with Snout & Proboscis Development Corp. of Santa Clara, California, to license its scent-encoding and -decoding technology to film studios and home-theater hardware makers worldwide. S&P's new chip division will be known as Scentronics.

Parfum Recherche has a long history of providing primary research to the perfume industry. It has quietly developed a method for inducing the experience of virtual scents via subliminal bombardment of the visual/auditory cortex.

"Physiologists have known for years that sensory information is processed by shared areas of the brain," explained project head Dr. Nez Renifler. "What we have done is to quantify certain visual and auditory cues that trigger olfactory responses. These cues, when buried in a film, can provoke the sense of smell. Thus, we can enhance the theatrical experience with this important sense without introducing chemicals into the environment."

The patented process, known as Sensurround, is said to be transparent to users. Snout & Proboscis' Scentronics chip will be available in limited quantities later this month, with bulk shipment starting in mid-July. Most major Asian manufacturers have signed on, as have a number of European and North American high-end companies.

Prospects for the venture "smell sweet," said S&P marketing VP Ed Schnozzleman. Sensurround-equipped receivers and amplifiers should hit dealers' shelves by late summer/early autumn. Genuine products will display the Sensurround logo---the stylized profile of a classical Roman nose.

Movie fans may remember "Smell-O-Vision," an experimental attempt in the 1950s to add scents to films. "Smell-O-Vision" involved releasing appropriate smells into the theater at key points in the film. The technique---cumbersome, expensive, and unreliable---was quickly abandoned when the novelty wore off. One of its biggest difficulties, aside from causing allergic reactions among theater patrons, was that a scent persisted long after the scene had faded from the screen.

"Sensurround, being a virtual experience, has solved the problem of olfactory persistence," Schnozzleman said. "The scent fades as quickly as it comes on. When you see a rose on screen, you smell a rose, not a roast beef."

Both Hollywood and various international studios will be releasing Sensurround-encoded DVDs. One of the first will be the highly regarded food film Babette's Feast, to be followed quickly by Like Water for Chocolate, Tampopo, Big Night, Eat Drink Man Woman, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, and My Dinner with Andre. Monty Python fans are eagerly awaiting the release of The Meaning of Life with its legendary eating scene. A bucket and a packet of very thin mints will be included with each disc.