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Dolby Digital Plus to be announced at NAB


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#1 of 58 Andrew Pratt

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Posted April 13 2004 - 02:24 AM

I got word of this new Dolby digital format to be called Dolby Digital Plus from an industry friend and its supposed to be unvielded at the NAB conference shortly. I find it interesting that now that Dolby's a publicly traded company that we're likely going to see more and more of these new formats as they do what they can to up market share and keep people buying licenses from them...

Technology Spotlight: Dolby's Enhanced Dolby Digital

By George Petersen

Mix, Apr 1, 2004

One of the biggest announcements at this month's NAB show will not be a product, per se, but the debut of a new audio compression protocol. Representing the second generation of Dolby Digital, the unnamed process will be unveiled in ongoing demonstrations to the broadcast and production communities.

Given the real-life limitations in bandwidth that seem to follow every signal delivery chain — traditional terrestrial broadcasting to Internet streaming — the need to maximize the number of available channels into ever-smaller data pipelines is great. And with emerging services such as video-on-demand and DTV bringing broadcasters the capacity for alternate channels, there is no chance that this trend will slow down — ever.

“Squeezing more services over the same bandwidth requires more efficient codecs, both in audio and video,” says Dolby's broadcast product manager, Jeff Riedmiller. “On the video side, most people are familiar with protocols such as H.264. On the audio side, we've developed the next generation of Dolby Digital.”

An enhanced version of Dolby Digital makes sense for consumers, hardware manufacturers, software developers, content producers and broadcasters. Consumers are hardly warm to the idea of having to change hardware every few years due to the debut of new — and incompatible — playback schemes, so backward compatibility was deemed essential.

“In considering the development of this, we focused on four key points,” Riedmiller explains. “The first is compatibility. This new system must have the ability to work with the 37 million existing multichannel decoders in use in people's homes. Obviously, any enhancements we make to the system must be compatible with those users, and this new format does provide a path to those existing Dolby Digital decoders. We also wanted to be more efficient in terms of perceptual audio coding itself, yet at the same time, offer a known quality at a lower bit rate for spectral efficiency. Everybody's looking for the ability to send the same quality picture with audio but with less bits, particularly in broadcast, using limited satellite bandwidth. This enhanced Dolby Digital addresses that need.

“Another factor is cost,” he continues, “and as we can maintain compatibility with existing Dolby Digital decoders, there's a cost savings to any new implementer. via the enhanced decoder's ability to decode both legacy and enhanced Dolby Digital bitstreams, as well as provide a seamless Dolby Digital bitstream for carriage over S/PDIF or Toslink interfaces to multichannel home theater systems.”

But equally important is the ability of any proposed standard to work with formats that are on the horizon. “Four or five years ago, some of the premium services on cable [as well as terrestrial TV] started offering 5.1 programming because viewers were used to watching DVD in 5.1 surround and they wanted that on television, as well,” says Riedmiller. “We also envision this technology being used on the high-definition fixed media that will be coming in the future, such as high-definition DVD and things like that, which have always driven the other side of the business.”

The whole point of perceptual audio coding is to reduce bandwidth and storage requirements while maintaining quality. What data savings would this new codec offer over existing Dolby Digital files? “It depends on the content, but it's also governed by the quality that the broadcaster wants to convey,” says Riedmiller. “We give our customers the ability to scale the content any way they'd like. In Dolby Digital today, we recommend that people encode stereo content at 192 kbits/second. There are people running the bit rate quite a bit lower than that in stereo and have great results with it. But with this enhanced format, we're confident that in stereo, you could get that 192k rate down to 96k.”

Bandwidth aside, does this enhanced system also support all of the cool, creative control features in the audio metadata, such as dynamic range control, dialog normalization and downmixing? According to Riedmiller, all of the Dolby Digital audio metadata is preserved in the new system, and the next generation of decoders will be able to play both existing Dolby Digital and the enhanced format with all of metadata intact.

“This new process is still in the early stages, so we won't be showing hardware systems, but we will be doing technology demonstations for existing service providers, cable systems and satellite services worldwide who may be looking at their next-generation set-top box,” explains Riedmiller. “Certainly, local broadcasters won't need to worry about this right away, but if you're a satellite provider who wants to carry more channels of high-definition video, you'll need a new video coding system. We're offering the new audio coding system to complement this new video codecs such as H.264.

“We're excited about this and look forward to telling the world about this at NAB,” says Riedmiller, who added that Dolby would be providing active listening demonstrations of the system at its booth during the show. “We're unveiling the capabilities of enhanced Dolby Digital for the broadcast market at NAB. Applications for the enhanced version could include satellite broadcast, cable television, video-on-demand, terrestrial broadcasting and fixed media [DVD, etc.]; pretty much anywhere you'd find AC-3 today, we'd expect to find the enhanced version. It could also apply to toys, games and wireless, as well as going into the other spectrums where there are no bandwidth constraints. The system is also capable of going beyond 5.1, and there are provisions for that.”



© 2004, Primedia Business Magazines and Media, a PRIMEDIA company. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of PRIMEDIA Business Corp.


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#2 of 58 Richard Paul

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Posted April 13 2004 - 02:32 PM

Dolby has created a more advanced audio codec called E-AC-3(Enhanced AC-3) that will be marketed as Dolby Digital Plus. This new codec is even being proposed for ATSC. The article mentions that it can be converted into AC-3 and offers "new features that allow operation over a wider range of bit-rates and channels". Though ATSC has posted a press release it gives little information on E-AC-3's capability.

The candidate standard located here can be downloaded under "ATSC Candidate Standard CS/T3-613: Amendment No. 1 to ATSC Digital Audio Compression (AC-3) Standard, Doc. A/52A, Annex E: Enhanced AC3 Bit Stream Syntax". Though it mainly deals with the technical details it includes a section 3.7 on pages 72-75 which gives a very small overview of E-AC-3 and how it works. Also section 2.3.1.2 states that there may be up to 8 independent streams and up to 8 dependent streams. Each independent stream can have up to 6 channels while each dependent stream is one additional channel. The maximum number of channels E-AC-3 can have is 14, which is confirmed by the statement on the last sentence in section 3.7.2 "The maximum number of channels rendered for a single program is 14". The dependent channels can either supplement or even replace the channels in the independent stream. So for instance a independent 5.1 channel mix may have 4 dependent channels to create a 7.1 channel mix, with 2 channels acting as the rear channels and the other two replacing the surrounds so that sound effects that originally were in the surround speakers now come from the rear channels. The system of replacing channels could also allow multiple language tracks by only replacing the front 3 channels.

I'm somewhat surprised at the complete lack of information I can get on E-AC-3 even on yahoo. When I enter E-AC-3 and Dolby Digital as search terms I received 5 hits with only two related to Dolby's audio codec. Also Dolby's website not only doesn't give any information on Dolby E-AC-3 but only mentions it twice, with one in a press release and the other on Dolby's booth at NAB 2004. The press release is dated 3/12/04 and is titled Dolby Showcases Audio Solutions at NAB 2004. The only information given is this:
"Enhanced Dolby Digital for Future Broadcast Systems: Dolby will introduce enhancements to the Dolby Digital format that expand the capability of the technology for future broadcast systems, while maintaining compatibility with the 37 million Dolby Digital decoders already in home receivers worldwide."

Dolby also has information on their booth for NAB 2004 which includes the fact that they will give a tutorial on E-AC-3 on Saturday, April 17, 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. in the Las Vegas Convention Center, N112.

#3 of 58 GregK

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Posted April 13 2004 - 03:03 PM

So far I've also seen very little on E-AC-3 although I've heard it referred to as DD+. Scuttlebutt has it E-AC-3 should allow for higher than standard DD bitrates and may (just rumor here) allow for a lossless compression option if space allows. But so far getting anyone to go on record on Dolby's new codec has been in vain.

I'm guessing Dolby will provide a full blown press release with better details soon.

#4 of 58 Roger Dressler

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Posted April 13 2004 - 09:35 PM

Andrew wrote: >>I find it interesting that now that Dolby's a publicly traded company that we're likely going to see more and more of these new formats as they do what they can to up market share and keep people buying licenses from them...<<

Dolby is not a publicly traded company. You must be thinking of DTS, who just announced a lossless audio system.
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#5 of 58 Andrew Pratt

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Posted April 14 2004 - 12:25 AM

Ah sorry yes I was thinking of DTS:b

#6 of 58 Shawn Solar

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Posted April 14 2004 - 01:29 AM

So sound quality will remain the same but the way it is coded will change. Does that mean it will be more compressed? Or does it not matter?

I'm hoping one day they will bring a set of standards to the quality of audio and video reproduction. that way dvd players will have an easier time reconizing flags, dvd to dvd will be the same volume and such.

#7 of 58 Shane Martin

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Posted April 14 2004 - 01:57 AM

I wonder if this means a new format so to speak and we'll ALL have to upgrade to get this latest stuff..

Now I really need to look at a "software Upgradable" prepro/receiver.

#8 of 58 DaveBB

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Posted April 14 2004 - 02:19 AM

Quote:
Dolby is not a publicly traded company. You must be thinking of DTS, who just announced a lossless audio system.

Where did you hear that? I did a google search and also checked dts' website and didn't see anything.


#9 of 58 Michael Reuben

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Posted April 14 2004 - 03:17 AM

Quote:
I did a google search and also checked dts' website and didn't see anything.

I don't know what Google search you tried, but my search for "dts lossless" immediately yielded the following at Yahoo (dated March 22, 2004):

DTS Announces Lossless Digital Sound for Cinema

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#10 of 58 Danny Tse

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Posted April 14 2004 - 04:04 AM

Dolby Labs is doing an IPO by the end of the year....see below link to March 29th, 2004 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

http://www.sfgate.co....&type=business
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#11 of 58 Roger Dressler

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Posted April 14 2004 - 05:15 AM

Shawn wrote:

>>So sound quality will remain the same but the way it is coded will change. Does that mean it will be more compressed? Or does it not matter?<<

As the article mentions, broadcasters squeeze the limits of the audio and video codecs. DD+ will allow the reduced data rates to give better results. Yes, it is more compression than before--higher efficiency coding makes it possible without a loss of quality. We think it matters to be able to obtain better results in economically competitive applications like cable and satellite broiadcasting.

>>I'm hoping one day they will bring a set of standards to the quality of audio and video reproduction. that way dvd players will have an easier time reconizing flags, dvd to dvd will be the same volume and such.<<

One of Dolby's contributions to the effort of making program loudness more uniform, especially for broadcast, can be seen at NAB. The LM100 loudness meter is a very useful tool in this regard.


Shane wrote: >>I wonder if this means a new format so to speak and we'll ALL have to upgrade to get this latest stuff..<<

Nope. It is automatically compatible with all 37 million existing Dolby Digital AV decoders. That was very important.
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#12 of 58 Michael Reuben

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Posted April 14 2004 - 06:27 AM

Quote:
Dolby Labs is doing an IPO by the end of the year

Or not. The article says that an IPO is "expect[ed]". Mr. Dolby pointedly refused to comment.

Lots of "expected" IPOs don't materialize or, if they do, come much later than initially predicted. Until it's actually announced, it's a possibility, nothing more.

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#13 of 58 Kevin C Brown

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Posted April 14 2004 - 12:45 PM

I read the announcement, but I couldn't even figure out the following (but maybe at least one of my questions was answered up above):

1) Does it allow for similar compression as now but better audio quality?

2) 5.1, or is there any ability to do 6.1 or 7.1 discrete channels?

(I have been betting myself that sooner or later DD would also get to at least 6.1 discrete channels.)
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#14 of 58 David Judah

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Posted April 14 2004 - 01:59 PM

Didn't I read somewhere that DD+ and DTS+ were approved by the DVD Forum for, at least, optional formats in addition to a lossless scheme for HD-DVD?

It's good to see they are getting it going.

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#15 of 58 Marty Neudel

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Posted April 14 2004 - 04:14 PM

>“Another factor is cost,” he continues, “and as we can maintain compatibility with existing Dolby Digital decoders, there's a cost savings to any new implementer. via the enhanced decoder's ability to decode both legacy and enhanced Dolby Digital bitstreams, as well as provide a seamless Dolby Digital bitstream for carriage over S/PDIF or Toslink interfaces to multichannel home theater systems.”<

Roger,

doesn't the reference to "enhanced decoder's ability" imply that we will need a new decoder to take advantage of the enhanced features?

Marty

#16 of 58 Roger Dressler

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Posted April 14 2004 - 05:09 PM

Marty asked: >>doesn't the reference to "enhanced decoder's ability" imply that we will need a new decoder to take advantage of the enhanced features?<<

Yes and no. No insofar as all existing decoders will work with sound transmitted in the new DD+ system. But yes because the first stop for processing a DD+ stream is a new DD+ decoder chip in a particular source device. DD+ decoding will be inside the STB (cable, satellite) boxes. They are boxes designed for new services, not for current services--as that would be incompatile with current boxes.

Next generation cable and satellite transmissions will not only change horses on audio to DD+, but will use more powerful video codecs like H.264. So new STBs are the vehicle that allows these new DD+ decoders to enter the food chain. But the outputs of these boxes will look like regular Dolby Digital (2.0 or 5.1), or the signals will be decoded to 2-ch analog as usual. So they can feed any current AV system or TV.
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#17 of 58 Roger Dressler

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Posted April 14 2004 - 05:22 PM

Kevin wrote:

>>1) Does it allow for similar compression as now but better audio quality?<<

That is another way to slice it, yes. At the same data rates as DD, DD+ can improve the result. The degree depends on the data rates involved, number of channels, etc.

>>2) 5.1, or is there any ability to do 6.1 or 7.1 discrete channels?<<

The release states: "The system is also capable of going beyond 5.1, and there are provisions for that."
Roger Dressler

#18 of 58 Shane Martin

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Posted April 15 2004 - 04:19 AM

Thanks for being a resource for this type of info Roger.

5.1 Ex is techinically a backwards compatible thing but if you don't have the extra channel then you get plain vanilla 5.1.

Is this the case for this new DD+?

#19 of 58 Dave Moritz

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Posted April 15 2004 - 05:51 AM

I think that Dolby is kidding themselves if they think they can provide a supperior format with more compression. Or if they think they can shrink the audio down that much and provide even better sounding audio. IMHO Dolby does a poor job at present with there standard Dobly Digital and DD-EX product. Some talk about DTS tracks being cooked but if you look at SW:Attack Of The Clones that has to be the biggest over cooked mix ever. But back to the announcement of Dolby Digital Enhanced. If Dolby Digital tracks get any worse than they are now I may just stop buying movies all together. Or at least only buy movies with DTS tracks. Dolby needs to improve there product not make it worse, and tell us they are working hard to give us the best. I realize that some here may not like my opinion but this is how a truely feel. We all hear have different opinions, some like Dolby's product, some like DTS. Some people are indifferent and dont care ether way. But I think there a many of use here that are not happy with how Dolby surround tracks sound. If Dolby was to raise the bit rate they would be indirectly admitting that DTS's approch was correct and that there competitor has a better codex. I think that this is more of Dolby trying to convince people that they can reproduce audiophile quality with very little data. How many really think that Dolby can effectively reproduce multi channel soundtracks with even less data? While yes bandwith is allways an issue especially with internet. I dont beleive it is a real issue with dvd or hd-dvd. I would not mind there being seperate copies for Dolby Digital and DTS. Then they would know for sure what format was selling more than the other. People that dont care about Dolby and like DTS usually dont playback the Dolby track unless the are doing a demo for someone. And I feel the same is true for people that prefere Dobly. Why have the extra track on there, I think it would be good for the consumer to have there choice and just have one format on a disc. One version of the movie could have Dolby and the other could have DTS. Granted that its a big convience to have dual format disc to cut down on inventory. But if it would help audio performance I am all for two sperate releases of a movie. I fear that Dolby will only put setting audio back by releasing this new version of Dolby Digital.

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#20 of 58 Tim Hoover

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Posted April 15 2004 - 06:40 AM

Quote:
Some talk about DTS tracks being cooked but if you look at SW:Attack Of The Clones that has to be the biggest over cooked mix ever.


Well, that complaint is about the sound mix. This discussion is related to the codec used to reproduce that mix...
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