Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oh no, I've caught a "viral"

Good old Dolby. It used to exist for the sole purpose of suppressing the "hiss" on cassette tapes. In the 1980s, audiophiles spent huge amounts of money on Dolby processing units like this one, but pressing the "Double D" button on my dad's stereo just made everything sound like it was coming from inside a cardboard box. So, like a pantomime villain, I endured the hisses... until 10 years of drumming masked it with the high-pitched whine of tinnitus.

These days, Dolby Laboratories mostly concentrate on surround sound systems in cinemas and home theatres. They've also just developed a "virtual surround" technology for mobile phones.

We've been here before: Q Sound promised quadrophonic stereo from two regular speakers in the 1990s (the technique was used on Madonna's Immaculate Collection album). Essentially, Q Sound added funny echoes and delays to the music to fool your ears into thinking it was coming from all around you.

The problem was: Our ears are quite sophisticated at pinpointing where sound is coming from. Evolution tends to weed out people whose response to a tiger's roar is to run straight towards the tiger. And so Q Sound sloped away quietly, shortly after Kevin Costner endorsed it for the Robin Hood soundtrack.

I can't see the Dolby system faring any better, but they've produced a mildly diverting video to show off how well it works. Turn up your speakers and have a listen.

Beardyman - Dolbyman

Could you hear anything behind you? Me neither.

Oh my God, is that a...? It can't be, can it? SHIT! TIGER! RUUUUUUUNNNNN.


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