7.1 sound systems to accompany 3D movies

January 17, 2011 9:45:39 AM PST
Many movie theaters in the Bay Area will be getting a new sound system in the coming month, to go along with the new 3D movies. It's dubbed 7.1.

Which comes first? The chicken? Or the egg? Or is it the rooster? This is the trilemma faced by the 3D movie industry a few years ago. Exhibitors couldn't show movies until content creators made them. But content creators couldn't make the movies until an audience demanded to buy tickets. But the audience couldn't buy tickets to movies the exhibitors were not showing in theaters. And so on.

Now the same cycle is facing the audio. In 3D, it matters even more that the sounds made by something emanate from its physical location. Current home theater and movie theater systems have a sweet spot, because the side and rear speakers share a channel.

What does that mean for 3D? Whether that truck in Toy Story 2 sounds as though it's coming directly over you -- as it should -- or slightly left or slightly to the right, could depend on where you're seated in the theater.

But now, Dolby is rolling out into theaters a new 7.1 surround system that gives the left back and the right back speakers their own channel, hence the number 7. And it is seeding movie makers with new editing tools like an Avid setup with more than 36 channels.

"Shrek Forever After" in 3D was the first movie released in 7.1 sound, but it was up-mixed. So far, only one movie has been shot and produced in 7.1, Toy Story 3.

For theater owners who already have a 5.1 like this installed, this is just a matter of two more speakers and a slight rearrangement of the existing ones. For Dolby, it's a matter of heading off competition in the home and theater, and using a pig to beat the chicken or the egg.

------- Links -------

About 7.1 Surround Sound for Cinemas and home theaters