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Thursday, January 04, 2007

CES: Surround sound from a single speaker

All of a sudden sound is important, and chip makers have been teaming with a new generation of algorithm suppliers to improve the performance of all sound systems. Companies such as Bose, B&O and Tivoli are experts at matching speaker systems to the electronics, but they keep the technology tightly in-house (and charge accordingly).
Now companies like Micronas and ST Microelectronics are integrating similar technologies from other algorithm suppliers into single chips for the mass market.
German chip maker Micronas has teamed up with Cambridge-based 1 Ltd to develop a ‘Digital Sound Projector’ in a consumer audio system-on-chip.
The Digital Sound Projector is a single speaker enclosure containing an array of speakers that simultaneously produce multiple beams of sound. These beams are individually steered and projected within the room, using the walls and ceiling to reflect these beams and produce real surround-sound for the TV viewer.
The flexibility also allows TV viewers to simultaneously watch different programmes being shown on a split screen – without using headphones. Called Beam2Me, this function collapses each programmes surround sound into a mono beam which is then beamed directly at each viewer. Beam2Me can also send the audio beam from one room to another using wall reflections and door openings, features unavailable from other surround systems.
The Digital Sound Projector technology is implemented in the firmware of the QuadMAU audio DSP in Micronas’ MAP-M and MSP-M family of audio processors for digital TVs.
“Implementing Digital Sound Projector IP into the leading range of Micronas SoC audio processors is the first step in gaining mass consumer take-up of the technology,” said Steve Collicott, Business Development Manager of 1 Ltd. “Consumers will be able to purchase FPTV’s with an integrated Digital Sound Projector exploiting its advanced beaming features whilst taking advantage of a real surround-sound system without the clutter of separate speakers and cables. Unlike psycho-acoustic offerings, the Micronas solutions allow all of the audio channels to be heard, even when moving around the room”.

At the same time, ST Microelectronics has teamed up with QSound Labs to use QSound’s QHD and QSurround 5.1 technology in its new ‘Sound Terminal’ chips (STA3xxQS) for flat-panel TVs, active speakers and home theatre systems.
The STA3xxQS range includes digital audio processing, digital amplifier control, power output stage and QSound audio enhancements for expanded stereo image and multi-speaker surround capability – to deliver a fuller, more natural and immersive audio experience.
ST’s ‘Sound Terminal’ idea is intended to bring high audio quality, lower power dissipation and reduced manufacturing costs for flat panel TV sets, wireless products and personal audio systems by putting all the chips in a single package for a fully digital stream from sound source to loudspeaker.
QHD and Qxpander are stereo sound-field enhancement technologies that synthesise a 3D stereo sound field. QSound QHD removes the small centralized audio sweet spot by creating a very wide stereo image with full immersive audio, while QSurround 5.1 adapts stereophonic audio signals for effective playback on multi-speaker ‘surround’ systems.
“Sound enrichment is a key asset for ST’s ‘Sound Terminal’ customers and QSound’s QHD and QSurround 5.1 technologies offer a unique combination of audio quality and efficiency, when incorporated into our single-chip audio solutions,” said Andrea Onetti, Audio Division General Manager, Home Entertainment and Displays Group, STMicroelectronics. “The unique ST offering of ‘Sound Terminal’ products can now leverage the QSound partnership in this and future product launches for the very best audio solutions available.”

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