Consumers are paying a lot of attention to picture quality.

High definition (HD) overtook standard definition (SD) TV sets in global shipments in 2008, and HD set-top boxes are forecast grow from 20 percent in 2007 to 50 percent of global market share in 2012, according to technology research firm iSuppli.

But audio is a key component of the home-theater experience as well.

One example is Motorola’s newest line of HD set-tops, the DCX 3400 (with DVR capability) and the DCX 3200. Both offer Dolby Digital Plus, an extension of earlier Dolby audio systems that Dolby engineers designed several years ago to support advanced digital TV applications such as HD.

These 3000-class DCX set-tops will be available to cable operators in early 2009, according to Motorola.
Compression and upsell Motorola’s strategic marketers think that consumers will soon be demanding higher quality audio to go along with their new HDTV sets and Blu-ray disk video players. But the more immediate allure for cable operators may simply be the improved compression provided by Dolby Digital Plus.

"It’s a more efficient codec that uses less bandwidth, which is a bonus to our customers," said David Goodwin, senior product manager, digital video services, Motorola.

Set-tops with Dolby Digital Plus improve coding to reduce the data rate while maintaining quality to squeeze out a few more bits, according to Jeff Riedmiller, technology architect for Dolby’s broadcast group.

Goodwin said the new boxes are able to pass the full 7.1 audio channels over HDMI signals available to typical AV speakers. And the new set-tops also allow for additional surround speakers.

"We also can decode Dolby Digital Plus so that it’s compatible with existing consumer equipment, and we can take 7.1 channels and turn it down to 2 channels," said Goodwin.

But the better sound will appeal to some consumers. "We see this as an upsell area where someone may want to have a premium experience," said Goodwin.
Loudness analysis Implementation of audio has sometimes lagged behind video technology. In the past, consumers with Dolby audio equipment, for instance, might get blasted with sound when a compressed digital program switched to non-compressed content.

See this story from early 2007 addressing issues related to pairing Dolby Digital with non-Dolby devices.

"The cable industry in general has taken up the issue of loud ads, quiet ads, etc.," Riedmiller said.

The solutions that Dolby has introduced include its DP600 Program Optimizer, a system offering file-based audio loudness analysis and correction compatible with many broadcast and VOD media file formats.

"The big four MSOs have, over the past year and a half, taken a strong uptake in the adoption of (the DP600)," said Riedmiller.

– Linda Hardesty

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