Nowadays home cinema receivers come with a bunch of logos plastered all over them indicating various proprietary capabilities. My system wears HDMI, Neural Surround, Dolby True HD, DTS, HD, and Faroudja Cinema logos. These companies are all experts in signal processing and their work results in amazing things that enhance the audio-visual experience.
I'd be on the lookout for yet another logo – DTS Headphone:X. This is a truly amazing product that was demonstrated at both CES and the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) shows over in the States. It's expected to be available for any environment from home cinema to computer gaming.
To demonstrate its capabilities, the company sits you down in a room with a big screen TV and a 9.1 surround rig with nine speakers – I recall four speakers in front at upper and lower levels, speakers to the side, and a centre channel as well as speakers in the back and a subwoofer. The demo begins by isolating each of the speakers. From the sound you can clearly tell where the speaker is positioned.
Then you put on a headset and the demonstration is repeated – but whoops, the headset is broken. No, wait – you have been fooled, the headset is working but you'd swear it isn't and you think you are hearing the actual speakers in the room. Everyone swears this is bogus and they repeat the demo letting the audience members take the headphones on and off as necessary to prove that they are indeed emulating the free-air speakers perfectly.
I was impressed. I know this sort of thing is possible through sound modelling and trickery, but this was the best I've heard since a demo of the early QSound open-air 3D audio. In that demo, participants went into a sound-proof booth to listen to some speakers. You'd swear that someone had let a dog into the tradeshow and it was just outside the booth's door barking at you.
I've always wondered why this sort of audio field modelling is not more prevalent. How do we, for example, identify that a sound is coming from behind us? Our sensors are two ear drums that just hear sound. If you think about it this, it should be easy to sense the location left-to-right based on the relative levels in each ear. But how can we tell what is in front and back?
And if you can accomplish a 3D 360-degree sound stage using algorithms such as DTS Headphone:X, why do we need surround sound at all? A pair of headphones or just two speakers should do the trick. It's a lot cheaper to have two speakers rather than nine.
For the moment, the world has moved away from free-air speakers and towards earbuds and headphones. This technology from DTS would impress anyone. Keep an ear out for it.