Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Million Dollar Ideas #3

Audio. Everything on the market is about HD video, but there's nothing about improving audio quality. Super-Audio CDs are something of a niche market, which seems strange to me. Home theater systems are widespread, meaning lots of people have Surround Sound systems, and their music doesn't take advantage of it.

We need more availability of high-quality, multichannel audio. There is no reason, for example, that the data on a Super Audio CD couldn't be lossily compressed by a factor of 10 (via MP3, for example), and thus fit on a standard CD while sounding a great deal better than a standard CD. The reason for compressing at all is to make downloading practical. Surely some audiophiles will object to any compression, even if it's a significant quality improvement over their current stereo FLAC downloads. Alternatively, FLAC handles multichannel and high sampling rates, so we could do that, but the bandwidth difference is at least a factor of 5. It might be passe to even worry about bandwidth, but there it is.

Then, of course, you have the issue of how to play it. At the very least, being able to translate the download to Dolby Digital and write it to a DVD would ensure that it was playable on pretty much every Surround Sound system out there. Writing to Dolby True-HD would allow more of the high-frequency sampling to come into play, but it's not available on all Blu-Ray players (although it was required for the now-defunct HD-DVD standard).

But let's bring this concept home: we're recording HD movies now, but still using stereo microphones, at best? Why? Well, probably because that's about all that home computers really handle. But if we had the devices to record real Surround Sound, I think manufacturers would bump up the playback technology.

Certainly it wouldn't take a great deal of horsepower to record 4 or 5 channels of sound on a device. I envision a shotgun mike mounted on the camera top for center channel, and then a hat that the camera operator would wear, with three omnidirectional mikes on it to pick up left, right, and rear. Then with software, apply this soundtrack to the video, and burn a real DVD or Blu-Ray disk with appropriate Dolby sound. (Or, if doing an audio-only disk, just the soundtrack.)

That hat is the million-dollar idea for this post.

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