You're Surrounded: New Tech Unleashing 3D Audio (Op-Ed)

David Pedigo is the senior director of learning & emerging trends at CEDIA. Pedigo oversees CEDIA's training and certification department as well as the Technology Council, whose mission is to inform members and industry partners on emerging trends, threats and opportunities within the custom electronics sector. Pedigo contributed this article to Tom's Guide's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

When most people think of the latest and greatest in home theater, they recall articles, photos and conversations about the newest screen or projector — the visual display. However, there is another component to home theaters that is the true all-star when it comes to creating a cinema-like experience in our homes: Surround-sound systems are what enable home theaters to deliver a truly transformative experience.

Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

(Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Soon enough, when we think of the latest and greatest in home theater, we'll all be talking about the leaps and bounds being made in the newest audio formats, the immersive audio.

The cinematic experience has long been dominated by surround sound. Classics like "Star Wars: Episode IV" and "Jurassic Park" were among the first modern movies to use this sound format, which has since progressed from using two speakers to five speakers to seven speakers — or more.

Regardless of the number of speakers, until recently the audio still simply surrounded you on a horizontal plane. It's only when you have an immersive, multilayered audio experience that you realize how much deeper into a scene an audio system can take you. With movies like "Mockingjay: Part 2," "Sicario" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," we're becoming genuinely immersed in the action of these films through a new approach to audio.

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Immersive audio is allowing sound engineers to get creative with speaker placements by adding elevated and/or overhead speakers to the traditional horizontal plane format used with traditional 5.1 or 7.1 surround-sound systems. Imagine using additional speakers to create a 3D space where you're hearing sounds from not only around you, but above you. Multichannel audio companies like Dolby Labs, DTS and Auro Technologies are working to make this experience achievable with Dolby Atmos, DTS Neo:X and Auro-3D, respectively.

Immersive audio also steps outside the boundaries of a channel-based audio system and challenges sound engineers to use an object-based approach, moving away from the traditional trend of pairing sounds with specific speakers on a horizontal plane. Now, engineers associate sounds with individual objects in a 3D space, such as bullets whizzing by or tires peeling out during a high-speed chase.

The information associated with these individual sounds (objects) are deciphered in your AV system and distributed through a combination of speakers to reproduce that sound in your home.

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As with when surround sound became popular, the only way to enjoy this advanced immersive audio system is to find content that is encoded with the technology. This does ultimately mean replacing your DVD/Blu-ray collection, but at a slow, affordable pace, considering content is slowly transitioning to being remastered for this system. Studios are releasing Blu-rays and other content in this format, so it is important to keep a pulse on the immersive audio trend and find the appropriate films that will cater to your new audio system.

As immersive audio technology makes its way into homes, it is also important to ensure consumers are informed and educated on how best to implement it — some products will need to be purchased, while others are already a part of your current system. As you search for sources, it is crucial to identify the correct technology professional so you're not oversold on products or services and so you have the new technology integrated into your home effectively, both from a cost and functionality standpoint.

It is no doubt that it is an exciting time for the home theater enthusiast as the landscape in this industry continues to grow in such innovative and experiential ways. Content, such as films and concerts, will continue to be recorded or remastered in immersive formats like DTS Neo:X, Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D. In my next article, I will take you on a tour of these three formats that are bringing the immersive audio experience to life and tell you a bit more about what the future holds.

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