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The Next Step in Movie Theater Technology: 3-D Sound

October 13, 2010 By Mark Elson - Senior Editor

Moviegoers: You may soon be able to experience the eerie whisper of a ghost in your right ear, the pitter-patter of rain pelting your umbrella or the whistle of bullets screeching past your face. "We want audience members to forget that they're in the theater so they can experience sound as close as possible to the real world," said Uwe Karbenk, chief executive of Iosono Inc., which develops and licenses 3-D audio systems . The system's unique feature is its ability to project audio anywhere inside the theater, giving the audience the illusion that sounds originate from right next to them. Everyone in the audience hears sound at the same volume, regardless of where they sit. The effect is created by using between 64 and 128 speakers and 32 audio channels, each of them controlled by a computer that can play back individual sounds at intervals. Iosono's technology already is used in various museums, planetariums and theme parks, including at the Haunted Mansion attraction at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Imagine standing in a tropical rain forest. As thick rain drops hit the ground, you hear a toucan a hundred feet ahead of you and a monkey crying somewhere to the left. Then, a large creature - perhaps a tiger? - slowly approaches out of the depths of the forest to the right, coming closer and closer until you can hear it breathing right in front of you. Finally, the beast walks on by. Sounds can appear to come from great distances, can be placed right next to any member of the audience or overhead. What's more, they can be made to move along any given path in the listening space.

Iosono has installed its system at two screens in the Mann Chinese theater complex in Hollywood. The company aims to roll out up to 50 screens this year and 200 screens by 2011. Although Iosono declined to reveal which movies would be shown in the new format, people familiar with the matter said Iosono would debut with Walt Disney's "Tron: Legacy," set for release Dec. 17. One hurdle Iosono faces is price. Some theater operators have already spent millions upgrading their theaters with new digital projectors and 3-D equipment. The new format has drawn praise from some influential directors, who have been frustrated because their movies rarely sound the way they intended when they reach theaters.

Theater operators are looking for new ways to make their cinemas stand apart from home entertainment, where big-screen, high-definition televisions and 9.2 sound systems have turned family rooms into miniature multiplexes. Although Hollywood.com reports box-office revenues through Oct. 10 reached $8.3 billion, an increase of 3.4% from the same period a year ago, actual theater attendance is declining, down 2% from a year earlier.

IOSONO technology combines the use of a large number of loudspeakers with the principle of wave field synthesis to recreate the complex acoustic wave field of sound emanating from actual objects. Based on a theory developed by seventeenth-century physicist Christiaan Huygens, with Iosono, you're no longer looking at a picture on the wall, so to speak, but at an "acoustic hologram". To learn more, click here. To read a recent Los Angeles Times article, click here:

Iosono 3D Mixing Studio
 Iosono 3D Audio Theater


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