Augmented Audio For Home Cinema

Augmented audio for home cinema, is this the future for cinema design? A speaker-free cinema sound system would be a very tempting ideal for many.

It's an age-old design problem in cinema design; some spots in the room sound better than others. The location of your seat within the cinema room has a direct relationship to your experience of the movie soundtrack. Depending on where you are seated, you may be too close to a rear surround speaker or a side channel speaker. If your head is 20cm from a side-channel speaker, the output from that speaker is going to dominate your experience.

The challenge for any cinema designer is ensuring that everyone in the home cinema gets a consistent experience wherever they sit.

Binaural Audio

Binaural audio has been around for a long time. First demonstrated in 1881 in France, it is a way of trying to replicate what your ears hear. It wants to influence how your brain decodes the signals it receives from your ears, to give the effects of distance and location of a sound. Initially, engineers achieved it with two microphones to replicate your ears. Nowadays, fancy algorithms and computers replace those microphones, and sound engineers can place different sounds anywhere in space. 

You don’t need any fancy equipment to listen to binaural audio recordings. Many examples on YouTube, including Planet Earth II – Jungle 360, simply require a pair of headphones. And that is kind of the problem with binaural audio. To get the best from it, you need to be wearing headphones, which isolate you from your family or companions with whom you are sharing the movie.

One answer could be to have the rear and side channels built into the seats. By doing this, each watcher gets the same experience. There would still be a shared left, centre, right, and low-frequency source, but the surround speakers fitted within the fabric of each seat would create effects tailored to that seat. An individual could even have surround effects adjusted to suit them.

Flexound Pulse

Flexound Pulse envelopes movie watchers in their own personal sound bubble without needing further external speakers. Instead, it makes use of physical soundwave vibrations to generate multi-sensory audio. In tests, Flexound Pulse provides a similar surround sound audio quality for each user, no matter where the seats are placed within a movie theatre. The Flexound concept is focused on the chair providing the audio soundtrack. There is no need for external speakers. The chair creates a “sound sphere” that you sit in. 

Head-Related Transfer Function

Wow! Can’t you just imagine some bespectacled geek types sitting in a room and coming up with that phrase? What the heck is it? We have an extraordinary ability to detect where the source of a given sound is, usually without even thinking about it.
Try this: put some music on. Now turn and face 90 degrees to the speakers so that one ear is facing the speakers. Put your hand over one ear, and then put your hand over the other ear; notice the difference? The sound has to travel around your head to reach your other ear and thus sounds different. Your brain analyses the differences in the timbre of the sound arriving at each ear and identifies where the sound has come from.
Head-related transfer function is when a sound engineer changes the sound coming from speakers to trick our brain into thinking it is coming from somewhere else. HRTF is a vast subject that perhaps needs its own blog post. Something I may get around to one day.

In Summary

A home cinema designer could use augmented audio to provide a more realistic and immersive sound experience. More importantly, without the need for more external speakers. A movie viewer will experience spatially-located sound effects to match the position of objects on the screen, creating a more immersive experience for the viewer. An audio engineer could also use augmented audio to enhance the dynamic range of the sound, making quiet sounds more audible and loud sounds more impactful.

Another application of augmented audio for home cinemas could be for accessibility purposes. For example, to provide audio descriptions for the visually impaired. Another use could be providing alternative languages for non-native speakers.

Overall, augmented audio has the potential to significantly enhance the home cinema, and public cinema experience, making it more engaging, immersive, and accessible to a broader audience.

Now...put some headphones on...

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