Here at the 2013 International CES, there are tons of great speakers to be seen and heard. Big ones, small ones, fat ones and skinny ones - you name it, they're all here. And although there's no shortage of impressive audio experiences to be had here at CES, in the end it was a modest pair of run-of-the-mill headphones that put our collective jaws on the floor. Granted, the headphones themselves weren't the real story; we're told your own headphones would have sounded just as impressive. The headphones were merely a tool used to demonstrate a remarkable new virtual surround sound technology from DTS called Headphone:X.
The demonstration was simple. After being brought into a modestly-sized theater, we were told we'd be watching a quick channel identification video. The first time through, we listened to this video using the eleven monitor speakers positioned around the room in a typical 11.1 configuration, which included a pair of height channels up front and in the rear. A charming female voice proceeded to speak from each channel, clearly identifying each speaker location.
Next we were asked to put on the standard pair of Sennheiser headphones we each had at our chair (which sell for a little over $100/pair). The same video was then played again. The sound experience was virtually identical. Let me repeat: virtually identical. If not for the physical pressure (i.e. the feeling) associated with wearing a pair of over-ear headphones, I couldn't believe that what I was hearing was coming from the headphones. In fact, Editor Chris Boylan was seated next to me during the demo, and he was convinced his headphones weren't working, and that he was still hearing the separate speakers. At least, that was until he took the headphones off, and the sound stopped completely. Everyone in the room was doing the same thing: taking their headphones off and putting them on again, just to make sure it was really just the headphones playing. Unbelievable.
So, how is DTS accomplishing this minor miracle of engineering? Here's the official line from DTS on how it all works:
The DTS Headphone:X experience first requires surround content to be encoded as a DTS-HD® bit-stream with the room information embedded in the stream. Next, the DTS Headphone:X solution embedded on a PC, tablet or phone calibrates to the headphones in use. Finally, the reference data is decoded and post-processing enhancement techniques are employed to deliver a truly amazing, home theater quality surround sound experience over headphones.
Although DTS clearly has their eye on this being a mobile-geared technology - ideal for laptops, smartphones, and tablets - the late night home viewing implications cannot and should not be overlooked. With Headphone:X built into an A/V receiver and a pair of wireless headphones, one could conceivably experience a stirring late night movie without compromising the surround experience, and more importantly, without waking the kids and neighbors. With the right headphones, you could turn it up to 11 and not bother a soul.
DTS Headphone:X was easily the most impressive audio technology we witnessed at CES this year, and we can't wait to see where it goes from here.
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