Among the exhibitors at the SMPTE 2017 tech conference this week, Delair was quite intriguing. This French company specializes in cinema sound systems with a twist. The company’s premise is that acoustically transparent screens—perforated or woven—compromise the image and sound quality for the sake of having the front LCR speakers behind the screen. Its solution is to attach sonic transducers directly to the back of a solid PVC screen, which then radiates the sound into the room.
If this seems familiar, it is. The Sony A1E OLED TV uses a similar approach with its Acoustic Surface technology, in which transducers are attached to the back of the OLED panel. This turns the entire panel into a sonic radiator. But I had never heard of doing it with a projection screen before.
Delair’s patented transducers are fairly small and mounted within a larger enclosure that supports their weight while allowing them to be in contact with the screen. They are positioned in a line array for each front channel. One or more high-frequency transducers are placed in the center with mid-high units above and below, together covering the range above 500 Hz. For the frequencies from 500 Hz down, traditional low-mid speakers, mid-bass modules, and/or subwoofers can be placed behind the screen, since lower frequencies pass through the material relatively unimpeded.
According to sound designer Jean Goudier, “I am absolutely amazed at the quality and precision of Delair technology. The sound is rich and dynamic, and it’s as if the sound is coming out of the screen itself. This system has been a professional revelation for me, and I have equipped my studio with it.”
To ensure a consistent tonal balance throughout a surround soundfield, Delair also makes a surround speaker with a matching tonal signature. The ported cabinet is only 5″ deep, and the front gently curves away from the drivers to prevent any baffle diffraction. The drivers include a 1″ silk-dome tweeter and a 7″ alloy woofer, and the efficiency is rated at 93 dB/W/m. In addition to surround duties, this speaker can serve the overhead channels of an immersive sound system.
The Delair surround speaker is designed to tonally match the screen transducers in an enclosure only 5″ deep.
Over the last 10 years, Delair has installed a number of systems in commercial cinemas, screening rooms, and a private digital cinema in France. They have also installed a system at FotoKem, a movie production and post-production company in Burbank, CA. I intend to check that one out for myself as soon as I can.
In case you’re wondering how much this technology costs and when it will be available to consumers, Delair isn’t saying at this time. The company has focused almost entirely on French commercial installations up to now, but it hopes to enlarge its presence in the US post-production and high-end residential markets in the near future.