We sat in Dolby's semi-muffled sound room and despite feeling claustrophobic, I still really, really
want this technology because It's just so very useful
. Not just "Oh yea, that's pretty neat" feeling we get from most PR events, genuine want
since it's not a novelty. It's certainly more useful than most of the Dolby features we write about - stuff like Dolby Headphone, Dolby Pro Logic or Digital Live are nice to have and may see some use, but we generally leave them off.
In contrast, Dolby Volume has an always useful
feature. It's one of those things that I would leave on all the time because it solves a problem and fixes the dynamic range of the audio without having to fiddle about. It's the ultimate ease of use for non-technically adept consumers. That single line may kill the appeal for hardcore audio enthusiasts, but we have contacted Dolby to double check the technicalities because it wasn't demonstrated how customisable it could possibly be for those who like the infinite ability to fiddle.
How soon can we have it though? Unfortunately the downside for Dolby is that it's not particularly fast to market with its new technologies, because it likes to make sure they're right first, and also the first generation hardware sounds expensive to implement. In the start of 2009 we'll only see super expensive high-end equipment use the first generation processor, but Dolby intends to expand this with future generations that optimise and cost down the feature for the general public.
Another reason is likely because of the calibration involved - whereas high-end AV equipment comes with custom calibrating software depending on how many speakers you have and how far away you sit from them, this complicated and expensive system doesn't permeate down to the consumer level that simply relies on a one-size fits all factory calibration. We're not yet sure what calibration is necessary to fit the Volume technology.
Arguably its greatest potential use - in mobile audio (read: MP3 players) - is furthest away from reality. Currently Dolby Mobile is a miniaturisation of Dolby Headphone technology and goes someway to correct the tins in your ears, but it also includes "tick box features" like spatial surround, although it also does extend bass response which is very important. What it doesn't do though is manage the bass in line with the mid-tones without having to really crank the volume to compensate.
Some of you may enjoy deafening yourselves while completely ignoring the world around you, and there is obviously an inherent limitation of dynamic range depending what headphones you buy, but potentially Dolby Volume could better stretch out the potential of any hardware, and its on-off nature that's tied into the volume control directly makes it completely intuitive.
We asked about getting it on the PC and unfortunately were told it was pretty much the same as above. Currently PC Dolby technologies are entirely software driven, but dependent on chipset support (to some degree) whereas Dolby Volume currently requires specific hardware. We've love to see it on some HTPC soundcards though and the sooner the better. Like we said above, future versions will be more suitable and the possibility of having them on a dedicated soundcard, whether software or hardware driven, would be fantastic, but that still requires additional software development to use it.
In conclusion, we love it, but c'mon Dolby, we can't wait a few years! Please crank that development up a notch for those of us with PCs and MP3 players!
Addendum 23rd December 2008:
Dolby came back to us with a few answers to some extra questions:
In the current version, it's only available on very expensive high-end AV hardware, right? These guys generally want things as customisable as possible - so is it simply on-off or tweakable?
Correct – currently it’s just in Toshiba REGZA TVs in Japan and in AVRs from Harman Kardon and Arcam. Dolby Volume can be implemented with full customer control of its feature sets or a manufacturer may choose to implement Dolby Volume as pre-set offerings.
Does it tie into any custom calibration software - either the high end multi-speaker or in-factory settings?
Dolby Volume can be implemented with room equalization, so that the device produces in the room exactly the same signal which is put into the system.
Can we get an official time-scale on how soon it will be available for mainstream TVs? PC hardware? mobile solutions?
We are currently working with manufacturers to implement Dolby Volume and we are going to be making an announcement at CES [in January 2009], regarding availability of Dolby Volume on display devices in Europe.