Originally Posted by DSperber
I'm waiting until hopefully later this year when the SVS ("Smyth Virtual Surround") processor (which I've described previously) becomes available.
Oops... I did not describe the SVS technology in this forum. It was on a headphone forum (HEADWIZE) where I posted my description.
So, to be fair, here's what's coming. If you have access to the September 2004 (issue #88) edition of Widescreen Review online or in paper, there was an amazing article on this technology and an interview with Steve Smyth.
Here is the future (and it is NOT Dolby Headphone!).
From the man who created the DTS codec used for film in theaters (generally considered superior to Dolby Digital), Steven Smyth, comes a new virtual surround technology similar to (in idea, but radically different in approach and result from) Dolby Headphone.
Again the idea is to mix down multi-track source input to two-track output for headphones. Like with the Pioneer DIR-SE1000C unit I own where I only use the base unit electronics and not the included wireless headphones, it is meant to be positioned on the source side of a wired L/R 2-channel stereo output path to high-quality headphones (involving probably an EQ, external headphone amp, and "cans").
However unlike with the Pioneer DIR-SE1000C approach which gets its non-decoded multi-track digital audio input stream via optical (Toslink) or coaxial, the SVS processor box receives already decoded 5.1 (or more) multi-track input from a separate receiver/processor that performs the decode/processing functions and then delivers each now-decoded discrete channel of the multi-track original source over a discrete analog connector path. I don't know if this will be balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA, but it is definitely each channel delivered over a unique analog path.
In other words, instead of decoding and mixing down the multi-track original digital source within the SVS box, it leaves the decoding task to a separate receiver and simply accepts the decoded separate tracks discretely. Apparently, new DVD players today already provide this form of decoded discrete output although I can't confirm firsthand (not owning such equipment).
Not including any decoding/processing in an SVS product avoids their having to pay lots of licensing fees and royalties to Dolby, DTS, etc. Also, it leaves the SVS product to focus entirely on its sole purpose: create a virtual surround environment through headphones that is IDENTICAL to what would be experienced when listening to the same content via loudspeakers.
Part of the technology is not only the processing gox itself, but also a unique head-tilt sensor that mounts on the top of your headphone band and which senses the position of your head. If you move your head, the sensor notifies the processor which compensates mathematically for the new positions of your ears such that the center of the virtual sound stage/source is always locked. You will be provided a new modified virtual surround stream which makes your brain realize you've turned your head but the sound source remained stationary. Again, the idea is to reproduce the experience of stationary loudspeakers but through headphones which map virtual locations of those virtual loudspeakers via the stream sent to your two ears and processed by your brain.
Another part of the technology is that the pre-setup for you, the unique listener, is to have your ear canal "measured", etc. The claim is that this is similar to going to get a pair of eyeglasses where each human is different. You go through the process with the eye technician of finding out exactly what lens specifications are right for your eyes, and then that's it. You have your glasses made... and they are optimal, for you. Well in a similar fashion, the mathematics of the SVS processing is "tuned" to your own personal hearing physics. Once it is tuned, you're good to go with optimal auditory results out of the mathematics and algorithms. Really!
Today I had a long conversation with a Steven Cheung, who's chief engineer with Smyth's research company out here just a bit north of LA. It was very stimulating. He's intimately familiar with all headphone-related equipment (e.g. Stax products), as well as other signal processing products that tried to perform virtual surround functions (e.g. my Carver C-9 Sonic Hologram Generator, a 1980's-era first-generation 3D-sound illusion creator from two ordinary loudspeakers in a room).
They also have a Pioneer DIR-SE800C unit, but he's quite negative on Dolby Headphone. He says "it doesn't work", in that he feels there's no accurate sensation of front/rear distance to the sound sources, angles from the sound sources, etc. He says with SVS you actually think you're listening to external speakers all around you. You know exactly where the virtual speakers are because the processed sound you're hearing has the same result out of your brain as real loudspeakers would.
Unfortunately... there is no actual product you can buy as of yet. They're apparently involved with licensing the technology to other manufacturers for inclusion in their products (yet to materialize), and also in development of their own standalone processor box (like my Pioneer unit) which might actually be ready by the end of the year. We'll see. He thinks the price point is under $3000.
But again, it is not fed from the non-decoded multi-track digital source through the usual single digital audio cable (optical or coax) from a DVD player, HDTV receiver or STB or DVR, D-VHS VCR, cable box, satellite receiver, etc., apparently because they don't want to get involved licensing Dolby and DTS. So you will [likely] require a separate receiver/processor that can deliver the multi-track source discretely across multiple connection paths to the SVS box... as I'm told many new high-end receivers and devices already do.
I've suggested that by not including a Dolby/DTS/PLII decoder in the SVS product he is eliminating a large potential marketplace of customers who have "ordinary" audio/video or HDTV equipment of today which includes optical/coax digital audio output of the non-decoded multi-track audio intended to go to a receiver, and which instead could go to an SVS processor box and on to headphones. Not supporting this option (as a way of avoiding licensing fees) but instead requiring special high-end analog receiver connections that provide discrete multi-track connection paths really limits the potential marketplace, I would think. He understood, but said the initial plans are not for a "consumer level" optical/coax digital interface that supplies a multi-track decoder in the SVS box.
If anybody wants to read the PDF article from September 2004 WSR, PM me with your email address and I'll send it to you. I've bought a 1-year subscription just to get this article (which I really shouldn't be shariing...).