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CES: Dolby Enters the Third Dimension with PRO LOGIC IIz (PLIIz)

By Chris Boylan

Not content to rest on their 7.1-channel Surround Sound laurels, Dolby is exploring a new dimension in surround sound -- height, that is -- with their new matrixed surround sound codec Dolby PRO LOGIC IIz (PLIIz). Dolby used their demo time at CES this year to show off the possibilities of PLIIz with a computer game demo segment featuring a helicopter which was audibly flying over the audience's heads thanks to an additional pair of height speakers added to the system (near the ceiling) and Dolby PLIIz decoding.

Because the technology is matrixed into existing 5.1-channel or 7.1-channel soundtracks, it requires no new codecs or standards be added to videogames or Blu-ray Discs in order to work. Game developers can simply encode height information into a Dolby Digital surround sound mix using PLIIz encoding and the end user (the game player) would use a new Dolby PLIIz-equipped receiver to extract and play back the new height channels. The demo was very effective, placing the helicopter squarely above our heads without disturbing its left/right and front/back movements or the sound effects from other game elements.

Onkyo's upcoming TX-SR607 home theater receiver is expected to be among the first to support Dolby PLIIz decoding.

Although the technology can also be used for movies, it's unlikely that movie studios will be eager to jump on board with this as it would entail creating a new surround sound mix for home playback which is very different from that presented in theaters, which have no height channels available. Music titles could be encoded with PLIIz as well, if artists and producers see this as an opportunity for creative expression or enhanced realism in the mix. But gaming is seen as the larger opportunity for the feature as gamers love to improve the realism of games, to identify possible threats faster and more accurately.

Also on the gaming front, Dolby demonstrated their new AXON technology which allows real-time surround placement of players' voices when players use headset microphones to chat or communicate during cooperative multi-player game play. With Dolby AXON, if your fellow clan-members are to your left and right and one is behind you, each individual voice will be placed in the appropriate place in the soundstage so your audio cues will match your visual cues, and you'll even be able to tell where your friends are without looking, thereby enhancing the reality of the game.

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