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Qualcomm Tech Could Make Great Soundbars Cheaper

SAN DIEGO — It's tempting to focus on CPUs and GPUs when thinking about Qualcomm's Snapdragon processing platform. But Snapdragon provides more than just processing oomph and in devices other than smartphones, too.

Case in point: Last week, I found myself sitting on chair in front of a TV at Qualcomm's San Diego headquarters as audio from a Snapdragon-powered soundbar swirled around me. As the animated sheep on the TV in front of me were swept up in a tornado, the soundbar blasted furious bleats from all directions, making me feel like I was sitting in a state-of-the-art movie theater.

I saw — and heard — the soundbar during a tour of Qualcomm's audio lab, where the company tests out its Aqstic audio technology that's included on the Snapdragon platform. The audio component of the Snapdragon platform tackles everything from making sure that your phone calls are clear and audible to allowing digital assistants to detect the keywords you utter.

The audio lab tour largely focused on technologies aimed at mobile devices, such as the AQT1000 USB-C digital-to-analog converter Qualcomm unveiled last December or a visit to the company's acoustic anechoic chamber for testing echo cancellation and noise reduction features. But it as the soundbar demo that stuck with me, as it has the potential to deliver theater quality audio at matinee prices.

Qualcomm designed the audio components to support a soundbar in the sub-$300 price range, a company rep told me. That's an attractive price given the quality of the sound, which is reminiscent of the THX-style surround sound you hear in a movie theater. (To drive that point home, the demo even included the THX Deep Note you'll hear in THX promos before movies.)

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The 1.5-meter-long soundbar on display was running a Snapdragon 835 processing while using MPEG-H, an audio coding standard that delivers immersive sound, which made it feel like I was right in the middle of that tornado of sheep unfolding before me. Qualcomm's software and processor can also use beam-forming to direct that surround sound to anywhere in the room, so that you can decide where the best seat in the house is located.

Qualcomm's immersive audio soundbar is still in the prototype stage, though the company says it's working with audio manufacturers to bring it to market. All the software and processor components are in place, Qualcomm's rep told me, leaving it up to the hardware makers to settle on a final design. Look for the MPEG-H soundbar developed by Qualcomm to hit retail by 2019.