When 2 = 11.1: Virtually Surrounded

CALABASAS, CA—Not every household has a surround sound system installed, but with multiple reports predicting that there will be more mobile devices than people on Earth by the end of this year, headphone vir tualization could deliver immersive audio to a massive audience.
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Lionsgate’s Divergent App features numerous scenes presented with Headphone:X. CALABASAS, CA—Not every household has a surround sound system installed, but with multiple reports predicting that there will be more mobile devices than people on Earth by the end of this year, headphone vir tualization could deliver immersive audio to a massive audience. Headphone playback replicating immersive sound formats is still relatively new (notwithstanding binaural, which has been available for many years, of course), but DTS has already seen its 11.1-channel Headphone:X adopted for use by a number of content creators.

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In late July, Lions Gate Films, Comcast and DTS collaborated to make available an immersive experience for digital consumers via an iPad app for Divergent, the first film based on a trilogy of young adult novels set in a dystopian future Chicago, which has grossed $300 million at the box office worldwide. Subscribers to Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand platform (there are reportedly 20 million-plus) who purchase the film can reportedly unlock more than 6 1/2 hours of interactive value-added material via the app, which utilizes Headphone:X technology to present content in DTS’ 11.1 playback configuration, which includes front and rear height channels.

According to DTS, this is the first time Headphone:X technology has been made available for users to experience content from a major feature film. But this is not the first time that DTS headphone virtualization technology has been used in conjunction with premium content. In mid-June 2013, the technology was used to deliver Hans Zimmer’s original soundtrack from the Superman film Man of Steel via a special app and code included in the deluxe CD package. In that instance, the downloadable tracks were presented via Headphone:X using Zimmer’s own head-related transfer function (HRTF) as measured at the listening position in his personal studio.

More recently, country music duo Florida Georgia Line released an iOS and Android app enabling playback on mobile devices of the pair’s new album, Anything Goes, mixed for DTS Headphone:X. A clip of the 11.1 mix for the single “Dirt,” which topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart a few months ago, features prominently on the band’s web site, together with a video segment featuring Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard doing the channel call-out.

The Divergent app provided the film’s producers with an alternative platform through which to deliver premium content, according to Molly Kronberg, vice president, corporate strategy and development for DTS. “Lionsgate is really on the cutting edge, a really innovative company. They think long-term, and strategically, they think about what’s coming next. If you have a Blu-ray [Disc], the challenge is how you deliver all the added-value content. The answer, in their minds, is an app that’s available to anyone.”

Divergent is what is known as a “life cycle” app, designed to keep fans engaged throughout the run of the franchise, the next episode of which, Insurgent, is due for release March 20, 2015. The app is free to download for anyone, and while the user must be an Xfinity subscriber to access much of the additional content, there are some scenes from the film presented with a Headphone:X mix, together with an explanation of the technology and a spoken call-out of the 11 virtual speaker channels, that are available to all.

“In the free app, there eventually will be a total of four segments that have to do with Headphone:X,” explains Kronberg. “The first is a consumer-oriented description of Headphone:X. Then every two weeks, they’re loading additional clips of the movie that were remixed for and delivered in Headphone:X. They’re twoto four-minutes long. I think there will be three or four in total.”

Among the exclusive content is a special feature of about nine minutes in length, says Kronberg. “Six minutes of it are an experience as if you were blindfolded, so it’s all about Headphone:X.” The “Dauntless Fear Simulator” was created using audio elements from the film soundtrack.

“Lionsgate brought Tim Hoogenakker, a great mixer, in for these clips and the special feature,” reports Kronberg. “Ben Ling was the guy who executive directed the piece, including the design and look of the app, not just the feature.”

The DTS technology is headphone- brand agnostic but offers presets that optimize playback for type. “You pick your headphones,” she says. “All of the content has been EQ’ed and you have a choice to listen to it with over-the-ear or on-the-ear headphones or earbuds.”

Kronberg comments, “The thing that’s really neat is that Lionsgate saw that Headphone:X was enough of a value to use it as a special feature for one of their premier customer’s consumers.

“The long-term strategy is to have content decoding and virtualizing on the device or via an app, as in this case. In this particular case, the content was pre-mixed for it, but that’s not always going to be the case. We’ve got solutions that obviously work in mobile devices.”
DTS, Inc.
www.dts.com