Dolby Lowers the Volume

Ear-jarring volume discrepancies between television shows and commercials may be a thing of the past if Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection Dolby Labs (NYSE: DLB  ) persuades TV manufacturers to include its new technology in their sets.

We're all familiar with the phenomenon: We're reclining in our Barcaloungers, calmly watching the late show when a commercial comes on and the volume has suddenly increased 10 decibels, causing us to spill our beer as we jump for the remote control. Dolby says its new Dolby Volume technology will make that rude awakening a thing of the past.

The technology is pretty important for Dolby, because systems incorporating its surround sound technology make the experience that much more jolting when it occurs. It might not be as jarring on your rabbit-ears set in the kitchen, but on that 60-inch plasma screen with five, six, or seven high-def speakers pointed at your cochlea, it can leave your ears ringing.

Dolby will unveil its volume control system at the Consumer Electronics Show Monday in Las Vegas, and the company hopes it will start appearing in television sets by year's end.

The difference in volume occurs because programmers try to compress the sound to boost volume without exceeding the limits the government has set. While most televisions today are equipped with circuits that are designed to stabilize the differences between TV shows and commercials, they are not necessarily effective and can still be problematic if the broadcaster fails to properly operate equipment on its end. Part of the problem: Depending on the type of program a commercial is inserted into, the commercial might actually be broadcast at too low a volume. While viewers might not consider that a problem, advertisers would, so generally, broadcasters transmit the sound all at one level.

Audiovox (Nasdaq: VOXX  ) recently came out with a device to help minimize sound differences by automatically detecting when a television has gone to commercial and lowering the volume for you. Dolby seems to go one better than this.

First, its technology isn't an external box that needs to be hooked up to the television set. We've already got enough wires crawling from our sets with DVD players, cable boxes, game systems, and whatnot. A sound "equalizer" might just be too much.

Dolby instead offers one chip that would be part of the set's components. (According to some reports, Cirrus Logic (Nasdaq: CRUS  ) has spoken highly of the development; it may wish to partner with Dolby to put the technology on its chips.) The technology then mimics how the human ear works, and how people perceive changes in loudness because of various factors. Dolby then created formulas to have the technology react to those factors to create a more even experience. It believes it could be applied to MP3 technology as well.

Perhaps another area where it should be investigated is cell phones. Despite advances there, sound quality has never been all that good, but Q Sound Labs (Nasdaq: QSND  ) , another surround-sound developer, is using its MobileQ technology to provide a surround sound experience on close-proximity speakers and headsets. With advertising moving to mobile phones, quashing loud commercials before they begin could be a big seller.

Let's hope Dolby's technology proves popular, if only so that another drop of beer will never be spilled while jumping to turn down an annoying commercial.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Dolby but does not own any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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