The Denon 5803 and also the upgrade for the older Denon 5800 both have the Dolby headphone -- but this is flagship-level stuff. It will probably take a while for this feature to trickle down to lower levels of hardware.
Richard, it might seem that way, but let me point out one thing to you. You only have two ears, and thus everything you hear or have ever heard is basicly in stereo. The "surround effect" that gives directional hearing that localizes sound sources is perceived by subtle phase and amplitude differences between your two ears. In theory, you could simulate such differences with electronic signal processing algorithyms, and deliver a perfect simulation of directional surround via stereo headphones. That is what Dolby Headphone does - it takes Dolby 5.1 source and produces a stereo signal which contains surround information. Is it perfect? No, but it's a lot better than "modest" in performance. If you want to read about Dolby Headphone, start here:
The generic term for what this technology does is "Surround Virtualizer". The Sennheiser you mentioned is an analog virtualizer, and much inferior to the DH technology. Dolby Headphone (originally invented by Lake Technology) is the first really successfull digital virtualizer. I watch quite a few DVDs in DH late at night. The "virtualizer" sound differs from "real" 5.1 surround primarily in that the front soundstage appears to actually be a couple of feet in front of my projector screen, versus the actual front speaker locations, which are even with the screen. This is an easy adjustment to make. In terms of actual sound localization, the DH technology is capable of far superior directional localization than 5 discrete surround speakers. To acheive the same degree of localization you would have to turn your listening environment into an "Anechoic Chamber" where you heard only direct radiated sound, with no reverberations.
billharris, the bad news is that although DH is in widespread use in aircraft (where you may have heard DH without realizing it while watching an inflight movie) there are but a couple of very high-end receiver solutions. I use a HTPC (Home Theater PC) where the digital or SPDIF sound is connected to my conventional Onkyo 5.1 surround receiver. The analog output of the soundcard is fed to a seperate headphone amplifier (vacuum tubes, no less). The actual DH digital signal processing is done by either the WinDVD or PowerDVD software DVD player applications.
The primary drawback to this arrangement is that DTS-only DVDs can't be processed by DH. This is really DTS's problem due to the way they license decoders - you'd have to pay a license fee for DTS decoding for every copy if the software player. (The other problem of course is that Dolby Labs owns the Dolby Digital 5.1 system which directly competes with DTS, so don't hold your breath waiting for DTS support in DH.)
For DTS-only DVDs (I only own a couple) I decode the digital signal in the Onkyo and take a mixed-down line-level stereo signal into the headphone amp where I apply a variable "crossfeed" via the headphone amp crossfeed control. "Crossfeed" is the most primative form of virtualizer, designed simply to reduce the total stereo seperation to a less intrusive level (avoiding the ping-pong feeling inside your head). So DTS-only DVDs are notably inferior to Dolby 5.1 soundtracks when using headphones.
So Dolby Headphone today can be had - but you will have to put up with HTPC management as part of the bargain. Soon after you adjust to that you learn how truly wretched the headphone jacks are on even premium receivers - then you shop for a set of quality phones and a headphone amp that closely matches them in internal impedance. Finally, you have a convincing surround experience for an audience of one, at any volume level without disturbing neighbors or family members.
The combined cost of the DIY tube headphone amp and the soundcard upgrade was a couple of hundred more than my Onkyo receiver. However, if you have a quality soundcard already, you could get a solid state headphone amp starting at about $100. The entry-level headphone amps are built with devices called "operational amplifiers" (OpAmps) but they still sound better than $4000 receivers.
Edit: for anyone desiring a taste of DH technology, there is a DH demo track on the Pearl Harbor (2001) DVD, which you can listen to via your current DVD player/receiver simply by selecting this soundtrack and plugging in your headphones. If you don't want to view the entire movie again, go to the scenes where the two American pilots are dogfighting the Japanese planes above the Army airfield. Keep in mind that this is but a taste, the software DVD players I mentioned sound somewhat superior and a good headphone amplifier sounds lots better.
Gary, that's a terrifically informational post and I appreciate it. It sounds like the applications I was hoping to use this for (both XBox and DVD's) are beyond the scope of the PC solution. Hopefully they'll begin to incorporate this into receivers at a more reasonable price in the future.
billharris, if you'll click the "What's New" link at the Dolby Labs site I pointed you to, you'll find that DH has recently been licensed for use on PS2, GameCube, and Microsoft PC games. In fact, some software titles are already available. This essentially means that users of these titles will experience virtualized 5-channel surround - but only when wearing headphones. (If you ever make the mistake of playing the DH sound over speakers, it gets really strange.)
Gary, here's one more question for you if you don't mind. Here's a bit ripped form one of the Dolby E3 press releases:
"Demonstrations of Dolby's Pro LogicÂ® II technology can be found on 11 Kenwood HTB-505 systems provided by Dolby in the Nintendo booth, hooked up to the Nintendo GameCubeÂ® systems running their newest titles. Dolby Pro Logic II produces five full channels of surround sound through the conventional stereo connectors included with all game consoles. "
So it sounds like the headphones must be connected to the headphone jack on the HTB-505. Does this mean that the headphone jack on the HTB-505 must be a Dolby supporting jack? I had seen somewhere else that this receiver allegedly had such a jack, but was skeptical.
John, I actually searched the forums and read that thread--but cleverly missed that it was a two page thread-good grief!
I think my primary confusion was about how the effects are created. I thought that if you plugged in an optical output from the X-box, for example (which uses 5.1), into a receiver with a Dolby headphone jack, that you'd get Dolby surround output. It seems like from reading these threads that the soundtrack for the game has to be specifically encoded for you to hear the effect. Big difference.
billharris, you have it correct - DH virtual surround can be pre-recorded and pre-encoded (as in games or the Pearl Harbor demo track). What you want is your own virtualizer/encoder which will take any 5.1-channel material and output virtual surround as a stereo signal. The Denon 5803 receiver (and the earlier 5800 with the firmware update for DH) has such an encoder - once you have encoded the multi-channel source, you could record your own stereo tapes or CDs and enjoy DH surround in a personal stereo.
wr202, I am VERY interested in your input about PowerDVD. Could you please share the product version you are using, and whether or not you had to buy any optional "Audio Packs" to get this capability. My current PowerDVD only supports DTS in digital passthrough mode, I was not aware there was a version with built-in DTS decoding. (I'm not real interested in sythesized surround, what I want is the DH-encoded version of real DTS 5.1-channel source.) Also, if you don't mind, what audio card are you using, and do you use any third party products like DVDGenie to get this DH function with PowerDVD/DTS?
Okay Gary, even though there is no way I'm buying a 5803 (I've already got a plasma screen--even I can't bite off that much for a receiver!), I'm curious about your response talking about encoding. So let me ask what is probably a stupid question. It sounds like when you're talking about the 5803 doing encoding, it sounds like it's in recording mode. So if I connected the X-box 5.1 output, for example, to the receiver, am I correct in thinking that it would not be in DH via the headphone jack because it was never encoded during recording?
Sorry for the multiple questions. This is really not my area, and I'm struggling to come up to speed on the issues.
I do hope this catches on. So many of us have kids and would like to hear something at decent volume at night. Plus, I think that as the technology advances, many of us would prefer to listen via headphones as it would be more immersive.
Not quite correct, Bill. If the X-Box is outputting 5.1 surround (either with 6xRCA jacks analog output or SPDIF coax digital or TOSLINK optical digital), the receiver would output 5.1 to the speakers. If you were to then plug in headphones, you would get downmixed stereo. However, if you then enabled the DH encoder, the stereo signal would then contain virtual surround from the 5803 encoder. (At least, that's how I see it, I can't afford a $4000 receiver either.)
The other way to get virtual surround is the scheme used in the Pearl Harbor DVD and the pre-encoded games mentioned above - a real hardware encoder in the form of recording studio equipment produces an encoded DH stereo track that ALREADY HAS the virtual surround information. You play this back as you would a regular stereo soundtrack, you don't need an encoder or any DH features whatsoever, because the surround information is already present.
These are two different means to the same end. In your case, I didn't see the X-Box mentiopned in the DH press release - but if the feature sells game consoles, they probably will support it. Therefore you could see game software with sound files the game would use, which are already encoded with DH. You would then hear DH virtual surround just by listening with stereo headphones.
For DVD DH support, the Pearl Harbor demo track is the only one I know about. Most DVDs would require some form of local DH encoder in your own equipment to allow you to enjoy the 5.1 audio in DH on headphones. The two paths to this end today are the Denon 5800/5803 hardware DH encoders or the WinDVD/PowerDVD software based DH encoders. Only the hardware solution would apply to your X-Box, whereas either the hardware or software encoders work with DVDs.
Crystal clear, Gary. Thanks for the guidance as I stumble along. Hifi.com is trying to have an evil influence on me--they're having an anniversary sale and have the Marantz SR-14EX 7.1 on special for $2499! That is a ridiculous price and if it had the dolby headphone jack I would probably do it (and try to sneak it past my wife--black boxes sometimes look the same to her , but I don't think it does, so my wallet is apparently saved.
I've been awaiting an under-$400 Dolby Headphone adapter for several years now, not wanting to mesh a computer to my video system. Primarily, I'm interested in Dolby 5.1 output from my HDTV, which delivers it with certain movies. But, in an apartment environment with neighbors, I haven't hooked up loudspeakers. Glad there are some DH users here that might correct any misimpressions I've gotten.
First, there seems to be intermediate-priced DH hardware, pro-grade equipment from Lake Technology--around $1k, I believe. I understood that this equipment requires the separate channels of Dolby 5.1 input, though. For example, believe I could take the six(?) RCA outputs from my Philips HDTV (a rare model with such a built-in decoder) and connect them to LT's pro-DH hardware.
According to several threads at the headphone forum, the hangup has been getting an all-in-one chip that handled both Dolby 5.1 processing AND DH processing, two distinct functions. Such a chip, from Sanyo and others, was announced last year. Not sure, but I believe the Pioneer DH wireless headphones I mentioned above, is among the first products to use this 5.1/DH chip. Sharp may have a portable audio-disc machine with one, too.
Still not clear to me how many other sources of listening, besides HDTV programming are possible with DH. Clearly, all DVDs with such audio tracks should be--if you have the right DVD machine. But it's not clear how good a surround-sound effect you can get, with audio no longer 'within your head' (DH's key benefit), from other audio sources. -- John
I suggest you evaluate the MDR-DS5100 surround headphones from Sony. These are priced at anywhere from $339 to $499 on the web, and although they are technically not Dolby Headphone products, they will allow similar effects from the built-in DTS and Dolby Digital decoders, and can be had within your price range. Consider that this price covers not only headphones, but also a dedicated headphone amplifier and more than one decoder plus a digital surround post-processor, and even $499 is not a bad price.
I listened to them and they were not half bad, IMHO. However, I have another requirement the Sony's did not satisfy - I prefer over-the-ear headphones because they attenuate external noises better. If I decide to view a movie while my next door neighbor decides to fire up his lawnmower or his Harley, I can switch to my headphones and make the external noises almost vanish.
The MDR-DS5100's sound good but they are the (currently more popular) lightweight open air designs. If you like such, there may well be a solution within your desired price range today. Worth an audition, IMHO.
The successor to the MDR-DS5100 is presently being sold in Japan--the Sony MDR-DS8000. Try http://www.avland.co.uk/sony/mdrds8000/ to see a web page in English. I don't know how much better these may be, but I assume there is some improvement. I actually have the MDR-DS5100 and they're not bad (they sound quite good with DVD's), but I was looking for a higher fidelity solution.
A forum community dedicated to home theater owners and enthusiasts. Come join the discussion about home audio/video, TVs, projectors, screens, receivers, speakers, projects, DIY’s, product reviews, accessories, classifieds, and more!