'3-D sound' unveiled at L.A. theater

Iosono creates system using Fraunhofer technology

HOLLYWOOD -- A breakthrough in theatrical sound that is targeting digital 3-D-ready exhibition was introduced Tuesday at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers' Technical Conference and Exhibition.

Iosono, a spinoff company of Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, excited SMPTE delegates with an immersive "3-D sound" system, which uses technology developed at Fraunhofer.

Mann's Chinese 6 Theater in Hollywood unveiled the first installation of the system in a 3-D-ready commercial theater (it also houses a digital cinema projector and RealD 3-D system). The 3-D sound system at the Mann is a ring of 380 speakers, set six inches apart, around the wall of the auditorium.

Calling the technology a paradigm shift in sound, the Institute's director, Karlheinz Brandenburg -- one of the fathers of the MP3 format -- explained that the sound system uses "wavefield synthesis," which allows sound to envelop the audience. It can be used to play today's audio mixes in addition to sound that is specially mixed.

Creation of the mix would require additional sound-mixing technology. Brandenburg said the company will offer a new mixing tool that would be easy to operate using a graphical-user interface. The longer-term plan is to license the mixing technology to audio tool manufacturers.

Sound rerecording mixer Stanley Johnston ("Juno") was on hand with a demo clip from an anime film called "Freedom." He mixed the demo in the Iosono format.

"Every time we step forward with imagery and sound in the theater, we are provided a greater palette for the creativity of the filmmakers," Johnston said. "I think most sound mixers will be fascinated and enjoy this technology."

Iosono CEO Uwe Karbenk said his company is in talks with Hollywood studios and hopes to have the first Iosono sound-mixed 3-D feature ready for release in 2009. Mann CEO Peter Dobson said the exhibitor is "very interested" in the sound system," but notes that Iosono has got to get the studios to dub in this system.

The system is expected to cost roughly 30% more than a "good" 5.1 surround sound theatrical system. Installation costs would be additional.

Fraunhofer has been working with studio consortium Digital Cinema Initiatives, having developed the group's d-cinema compliance test.