R.I.P. Ray Dolby - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 09-15-2013, 06:59 AM - Thread Starter
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Ray Dolby founded Dolby Labs in London in 1965. His most successful early products reduced the hiss from small cassette tapes then used for personal stereos (remember the Sony "Walkman"?) and vehicle tape decks.

In 1976 he moved Dolby Labs to San Francisco and took up with a group of innovative filmmakers that were intent upon using digital technology to revolutionize movie production. Although he did not exactly invent surround sound, his initial 5.1 channel system was demonstrably better than the entirely analog "Quadraphonic" 4-channel systems it replaced. Among the innovations were the wide dynamic range and ultra low distortion of digital audio technology and the first use of stereo rear surround speakers.

Dolby Digital 5.1 sound debuted commercially in 1977 with two modest little films called Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars. I still remember what it felt like to FEEL the bass for the very first time....and the rest is history.

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post #2 of 11 Old 09-15-2013, 10:48 AM
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Thank you for starting this thread...you beat me to it.wink.gif

The world of movies, music, and home entertainment wouldn't be the same if it wasn't for Mr. Dolby.

RIP (and hopefully in Surround Sound).
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post #3 of 11 Old 09-15-2013, 11:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Gary McCoy View Post

Dolby Digital 5.1 sound debuted commercially in 1977 with two modest little films called Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars.
Are you sure digital soundtracks were being used in commercial movie theatres in the 1970s? From everything I've read, the first movie with Dolby Digital was 'Batman Returns' in 1992.

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post #4 of 11 Old 09-15-2013, 12:16 PM
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Dolby Digital 5.1 sound debuted commercially in 1977 with two modest little films called Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars.
Are you sure digital soundtracks were being used in commercial movie theatres in the 1970s? From everything I've read, the first movie with Dolby Digital was 'Batman Returns' in 1992.

 

 

Ah - cinema history - a topic I am very interested in. The history of sound in cinemas is fascinating, since the days of the first 'talkie'. The first movie to use surround sound (albeit optical analogue and not digital of course) was Disney's Fantasia. They used three channels across the front and two at the rear (left and right). Fantasia was released in 1941 and it must have been a spectacular experience for movie-goers of the day.

 

Then comes The Robe in 1953 which had four channels of sound - IIRC The Robe used magnetic tracks for the sound. I remember going to the cinema with my mum (a movie nut herself) when I was a small child to see this movie.

 

Star Wars came along in the mid-70s with spectacular surround sound for its day, but as you rightly say, it was still not digital. It was optical analogue. 4 channels I think.

 

The first digital sound AFAIK came along in 1992 or 1993 and Dolby 5.1 was born. We had to wait quite some time for digital, but if you remember back to when we first got CD players, it doesn't seem so odd. Gary is way out when he says we had digital in 1977!!  Jurassic Park came along in 1993 (by coincidence I watched it on BD today) but this was DTS not Dolby.

 

I can’t remember which was the first Dolby Digital movie - but your timescale of 1992 seems about right to me.

 

RIP Ray Dolby. His contribution to our pleasure and enjoyment is almost unsurpassed.

 

EDIT: you are right. Batman Returns, 1992. Good article on the history of Dolby sound:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolby_Laboratories

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post #5 of 11 Old 09-15-2013, 02:21 PM - Thread Starter
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I am embarrassed, I repeated information from an obituary article without fact checking. Dolby's equipment was in fact used in both films I mentioned, but the digital part was entirely in the studio audio mastering suite. Virtually every theater in the world then used 35mm film projectors and both optical and magnetic stereo analog soundtracks could be selected when distribution prints were ordered. Dolby does appear to have marketed "matrix encoders" for multiplexing multiple channel sound into a stereo soundtrack in the studio, and matching "matrix decoders" for de-multiplexing back into surround audio in the theaters.

Most of these matrix audio schemes seem to be Left/Center/Right/Surround, with analog crossover networks for steering the bass from all channels to the subwoofers. Although two rear surround speakers were used, there was only one rear channel, until Dolby Digital 5.1 came about in 1992.

Edit: My first copy of Star Wars was on VHS, and my very first surround sound system was a Sony A/V receiver that had Left/Right/Surround channels and contained decoders for Dolby Surround and Dolby Pro Logic. Two rear speakers were present, but they had limited amplifier power and seemed to roll off frequencies above 10,000Hz. Still, it was enough to reproduce the sensation that the star cruiser on the opening scene after the text crawl had swooped in over your head. This was with my first video projector, a triple CRT Kloss Videobeam that I projected onto a carefully bleached and ironed white sheet with a 10 foot diagonal 4:3 image. That was in the early 1980's.

Sometime this year will in fact be my 30th anniversary with a Home Theater. But darn if I can recall the month or day.

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post #6 of 11 Old 09-15-2013, 02:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary McCoy View Post

I am embarrassed, I repeated information from an obituary article without fact checking. Dolby's equipment was in fact used in both films I mentioned, but the digital part was entirely in the studio audio mastering suite. Virtually every theater in the world then used 35mm film projectors and both optical and magnetic stereo analog soundtracks could be selected when distribution prints were ordered. Dolby does appear to have marketed "matrix encoders" for multiplexing multiple channel sound into a stereo soundtrack in the studio, and matching "matrix decoders" for de-multiplexing back into surround audio in the theaters.

Most of these matrix audio schemes seem to be Left/Center/Right/Surround, with analog crossover networks for steering the bass from all channels to the subwoofers. Although two rear surround speakers were used, there was only one rear channel, until Dolby Digital 5.1 came about in 1992.

Edit: My first copy of Star Wars was on VHS, and my very first surround sound system was a Sony A/V receiver that had Left/Right/Surround channels and contained decoders for Dolby Surround and Dolby Pro Logic. Two rear speakers were present, but they had limited amplifier power and seemed to roll off frequencies above 10,000Hz. Still, it was enough to reproduce the sensation that the star cruiser on the opening scene after the text crawl had swooped in over your head.

 

It's no biggie, Gary. I believe, BICBW, that there were independent left and right surround channels in use well before Dolby 5.1, but they were used very infrequently. I am fairly sure that Fantasia had discrete R&L surround channels for example (optical). It's all fairly academic anyway. I too had Star Wars on VHS and played it via a separate Surround Sound decoder that must have had ProLogic (I can barely remember it). I do remember I had L & R channels up front (my stereo music system), no centre speaker (phantom presumably) and two 'rear' speakers, albeit they were one mono signal derived from the LR content of the main channels. I even had a subwoofer (of sorts). I also used to use my VHS recorder as a high quality (for then) source for music that I had recorded off-air onto my reel-to-reel tape recorder - this would be for convenience and gave a better result than Compact Cassette. It all seems so long ago, and so crude, compared with what we have today.

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post #7 of 11 Old 09-16-2013, 02:28 AM
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...Disney's Fantasia. They used three channels across the front...
So much for the myth that the centre channel was invented for dialogue, considering the movie it debuted with.

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post #8 of 11 Old 09-16-2013, 11:01 AM
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...Disney's Fantasia. They used three channels across the front...
So much for the myth that the centre channel was invented for dialogue, considering the movie it debuted with.

 

:)  'Stereo' originally had a centre channel didn't it?  When it was first developed I mean?

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post #9 of 11 Old 09-16-2013, 12:01 PM - Thread Starter
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Fantasia had a center channel, it was the first of 76 features that had what was called "Three Channel Stereo":

http://www.imdb.com/search/title?at=0&sort=year,asc&sound_mixes=3_channel_stereo&start=51

Before 1940 there was only Mono sound in regular theaters. IIRC one of the few places one could hear Fantasia in multi channel sound was a dedicated theater in the original Disneyland.

In 1953, according to the IMDB list above, another 13 features were released in "Three Channel Stereo". The format is still used. So I believe that you could correctly state that the original multi-channel sound had a center speaker.

As to what you actually hear in the theater, that is a matter of the playback system. Most theaters had some combination of 'horn" tweeters and bass woofers in what was called a "ported" enclosure. The port increased volume by putting the sound from the rear of the woofer "in phase" with the front of the same speaker or speakers. The "horns" were highly efficient low distortion speakers in the midrange frequencies, making the dialogue very clear. There was not much sound above 10,000Hz in the theater, not only did the horns "roll off' the high frequencies, but they were located behind the fabric screens which also tended to muffle high frequencies.

Before Dolby noise reduction, there was a lot of noise and the high frequencies in soundtracks were often limited to improve clarity - resulting in a situation where every actor's voice on screen was deeper than in person.

The most popular mono sound speaker was the famous Altec-Lansing "Voice of the Theater":

...most often located in the center of the screen, and driven with a 15w vacuum tube amplifier. When multi-channel sound came along, good theaters added two more identical speakers, also behind the screen. But the cheap way to add the additional pair of speakers was to mount box speakers on the wall beside the screen. Large theaters often had multiple box speakers along the walls. This tended to muddy dialog because multiple speakers interacted and interfered with one another.

I would speculate that the concept of "stereo" as two channels came from music reproduction from vinyl discs and FM radio.

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post #10 of 11 Old 09-16-2013, 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by sdurani View Post

From everything I've read, the first movie with Dolby Digital was 'Batman Returns' in 1992.

Batman Returns (1992) was the first movie with Dolby Digital 5.1, but it wasn't the first movie with digital audio. Prior to that, Dick Track, Days of Thunder, Terminator 2 and a small handful of other films were released in a short-lived 5.1 digital format called CDS (Cinema Digital Sound).

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post #11 of 11 Old 09-16-2013, 02:20 PM
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Originally Posted by kbarnes701 View Post

'Stereo' originally had a centre channel didn't it?  When it was first developed I mean?
Yup, "stereo" from the Greek "sterios" means solid, as in 3D (like a stereomicroscope lets you see in 3D). Has nothing to do with 2 channels, 2 speakers, or 2 of anything. At the time Bell Labs was inventing stereo in the early 1930s, they concluded from their experiments that a minimum of 3 sources was need up front to create a stable wavefront that mimicked the original event.

The conductor who participated in those experiments was Leopold Stokowski, who would go on to conduct all the music in 'Fantasia'. Guessing he had some influence on Disney trying 3-speaker stereo.
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I would speculate that the concept of "stereo" as two channels came from music reproduction from vinyl discs and FM radio.
That would my guess as well. Sad that a limitation of the popular delivery media of the time (2 channels) is now held up by audiophiles as some sort of ideal. I used to think that they (of all consumers) would be eager to move beyond that limitation, but instead they seem to be the very group that clings hardest to it.

Luckily there are some early stereo (3-channel) recordings that I have been able to pick up on SACD (e.g., http://www.sa-cd.net/showtitle/7267).

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