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August 2012 l 21 broadcast WORLD

Immersive audio market consolidates

Dolby acquires Imm Sound while DTS completes takeover of SRS days later, writes Kevin Hilton

TWO LEADERS in surround sound technology completed major acquisitions during July to further stake claim to major shares of the emerging immersive audio market. DTS completed the $148 million (€120 million) take-over of fellow US company SRS Labs on 20 July, while news broke on 23 July that Dolby Laboratories had bought Spanish developer Imm Sound for an undisclosed sum. SRS Labs established itself in

the multichannel audio market by developing technology licensed by other manufacturers in the computer, home entertainment and in-car markets. During 2012 SRS Labs launched a range of technologies, including iWOW-U, an “audio enriching universal adapter”, and was promoting its Multi-Dimensional Audio object- based open platform. Despite this profile the California-based company had been put up for sale and DTS began the acquisition process in April. Jon Kirchner, chairman and chief executive of DTS, comments that the deal brings together “two highly complementary product and technology portfolios”. The combination of DTS’ audio systems and SRS Labs’ processing tools will create, he says, a broad offering and address the sound quality problems caused by the appearance of thinner, smaller devices, such as

Work on combining Atmos with Imm Sound will lead to a full launch next year

give a joint format that brings the best solutions to the market.” Imm Sound’s base in Barcelona

will be retained but the brand and its technologies are to be integrated into the overall Dolby offering. Darrow says right now Atmos is aimed squarely at the theatrical market and work on integrating Imm Sound technology into it will lead up to a full launch next year. Existing Imm installations will continue to be supported, with a new film in the format, The Impossible, due for release in October. During CineEurope in June Dolby announced that the first European Atmos-equipped cinema will be the Cinesa Diagonal Mar Screen 9 in Barcelona. DTS is not initially expecting

Doug Farrow, Dolby

mobile phones and tablets. “We can significantly enhance audio for films, music, video, games and general entertainment,” he adds. “The addition of SRS Labs accelerates our move towards this goal by having a large base of intellectual property.” Dolby’s bid for Imm Sound

was primarily based on securing its position in the emerging immersive cinema audio market. Dolby is targeting this sector with Atmos, a prototype object-based system announced in April. Imm Sound’s technology, based on additional loudspeakers in the ceilings of cinemas, has been installed in theatres in the US,

Jon Kirchner, DTS

France, Germany and Spain since 2010. The company also produces a post-production system, IAW (Immersive Audio Workstation), which works with Pro Tools. Doug Darrow, senior vice

president of cinema at Dolby, says the acquisition of Imm Sound had been underway for “the last few months” and came out of monitoring changes in the market. “We saw a progression from widescreen to digital projection, 5.1, 7.1 and now 3D,” he explains. “We feel the next generation will be more immersive audio and by combining Atmos with Imm Sound and investing in object-based mixing we can

to make any brand changes following the acquisition of SRS Labs. “We believe both have their own equity and they operate in different geographical areas,” says Kirchner. “Over time we will build a brand and technology road map. But there are different positions for both DTS and SRS as far as consumers are concerned.” He confirmed that SRS’ headquarters in Santa Ana will remain in operation. Dolby buying Imm Sound has echoes of its 2007 acquisition of Coding Technologies, which had been working with DTS on new low bandwidth broadcast surround sound systems. This latest move clearly ensures it has key technologies in its new target market, immersive cinema sound, but DTS is looking to other sectors, including mobile and TV. These commercial

developments say more about the perceived importance of audio for 3D in cinema and on TV, as well as the burgeoning mobile markets, than they do about any rivalry between Dolby and DTS. They are still competitors and there is crossover in activities but each has also targeted specific sectors for growth and innovation. How significant these acquisitions really are will be shown by how others in this niche sector react.n

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