The availability of 3D for consumers has been making a big splash at consumer electronics and home theater trade shows in the past couple of years, and while consumer adoption is not as fast and some observers would like, it appears that 3D video is here to stay.
In addition with the emergence of 3D video, there is also some movement to change how audio should be approached in the 3D and home theater environment. Although there are a lot surround sound formats in use, they are "speaker centric" and "channel centric". In other words, sound is mixed according to how many speakers or channels are going to be used in playback, and where speakers are expected to placed in a room.
Although this does provide a wider and more immersive listening experience for the listener than two-channel stereo, there are still some shortcomings. For instance, when objects move from one speaker to another, there can be noticeable dips in the sound levels and even dead spots between speakers. Also, the sound is somewhat restricted to the horizontal plane where the speakers are usually located.
Automatic speaker setup and EQ systems (such as MCACC, YPAO, and Audyssey) try to compensate for speaker and room irregularities, with varying degrees of success, and new surround sound systems add height and additional wide speakers (Prologic IIz, Audyssey DSX, and DTS Neo:X), but the results are still speaker and channel centric. In other words, these system don't always add that much more improvement with regards to sound immersion and depth, considering the cost of added processors/receivers and speakers.
SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio - Thinking out of the box
I had the opportunity to meet with Alan Kraemer, CTO of SRS Labs and his product development team at SRS Labs (now a part of DTS) in Santa Ana, California for a demonstration of a new way to approach surround sound in the 3D era in their Advanced Rendering Lab.
SRS's new approach, which is in an accelerated testing stage, is referred to as SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio (CC3DA). To put it simply, just as 3D video enables objects to appear to leap off screen - or leaving the boundaries of the screen - SRS 3D Circle Cinema 3D Audio unchains sound from the boundaries of the physical loudspeaker, creating a more natural immersive audio environment that can greatly benefit both the 2D and 3D home, or commercial, movie viewing experience.
I had the opportunity to hear several new advancements in surround sound during CES, including a brief demo of SRS CC3DA, but getting a chance to hear the results for an extended period, with several different content sources at the SRS Advanced Rendering Lab, it is my opinion that SRS has developed a game-changer in audio reproduction.
The core of SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio is the "renderer" (decoder) that can assess the type and number of speakers used in any setup and place sound objects in the reproduced soundfield where they are supposed to be in 3 dimensional space, regardless of the number or type speakers used, or their physical placement.
The SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio Listening Experience
With CC3DA, sound is pushed forward towards the listening position, instead of just existing in the plane where the front speakers and TV screen are located. Also, location and movement of objects between speakers and overhead are much more present. There are no dips as objects move side to side or overhead between speakers. Also, sounds that are often lost, such as ambience cues and transient sounds (environmental and acoustical sounds in the background) become more a part of the listening experience.
The result of this "Depth Rendering" is that the listener is placed within the soundfield, instead of being outside the soundfield. In other words, sounds are not just dispersed around the room, they fill the entire 3 dimensional space of the room with sound objects placed within that entire space. The listener becomes a participant in the sound environment, not just a witness to it.
Using scenes from several films, including Avatar and Master and Commander, the difference between SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio and Dolby Digital/DTS was clearly evident. The most dramatic comparison was when I was listening to the clips with only a 2.1 speaker channels active for SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio and 5.1 channels active for Dolby Digital/DTS. The 2.1 channel setup using CC3DA was more immersive and object location was more precise than the 5.1 channel Digital/DTS setup.
The difference was enhanced further when CC3DA was employed with a 5.1 channel setup, it not only showed how the soundfield can be opened up for larger environments, while retaining and refining the position of objects, but it further left 5.1 channel Dolby Digital/DTS in the dust.
I even had a chance to hear what CC3DA sounds like with a 17.2 channel setup and it was truly amazing. Such a setup is not necessarily intended for the home environment, but definitely has implications for commercial cinemas, as it sounded more immersive than anything I have heard at the movies. Of course, the 17.2 channel demo is a great way to show off the capabilities of CC3DA.
Execution of SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio in Home Theater
The key implications of implementing SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio in the home theater environment are:
1. With CC3DA, sounds appear to emanating from points in space instead of being identified as coming from a specific speaker.
2. CC3DA works with the number of speakers and the type of content sources you currently have.
3. Although adding speakers and channels aids in more preciseness of object location and opens up the soundfield for larger listening environments, the basic results of CC3DA rendering is not dependent on the number of speakers or channels used.
4. CC3DA can be incorporated into TVs, Home Theater Receivers, Sound Bars, PCs, and even cell phones and other portable devices.
Stay tuned for more details as SRS Circle Cinema 3D Audio gets incorporated into home theater products.