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Chat Transcript: Dolby Labs
on Home Theater Forum

The following is a complete transcript of the on-line chat with with Brent Butterworth of Dolby Labs, held on Tuesday, February 6th on The Home Theater Forum. Thanks to Ron Epstein and the staff the HTF for all their hard work, and for providing the transcript for all to read. Enjoy!

Home Theater Forum

Subject: DOLBY LABS - Brent Butterworth chat

Date: February 6, 2001

[RonEpstein] Good Evening everyone. I'd like to thank all of you for joining us here tonight as we welcome Brent Butterwoth from Dolby Labs. Hello Brent!

[RonEpstein] Brent, could you tell us what you do for Dolby Labs and how long you have been there?

[Brent_Butterworth] I'm the Director of Consumer Technology Marketing for Dolby Laboratories. My job is to educate the industry and the public about Dolby technologies as applied to consumer electronics. I've been here since September of 2000.

[RonEpstein] We appreciate you offer to talk to the membership here. I am going to open the floor to questions

[RonEpstein] Okay, NathanPatrick is first up....

[NathanPatrick] I was just wondering when we can expect Dolby Pro Logic II available in consumer products.

[Brent_Butterworth] Meridian might be shipping it already as an upgrade to a couple of their existing processors. TAG McLaren should be ready to go with an upgrade quite soon. The first mainstream PLII products you'll see will probably be three Kenwood receivers shipping in April. First, Pro Logic II is a new surround sound processing scheme that provides five full-bandwidth channels from any source: stereo CDs, VHS tapes, TV shows, MP3 files, 8-track tapes, whatever. Basically, it gives any source much of the same quality you expect from a discrete 5.1-channel source. For movie theaters, the next big move will be digital cinema. Digital cinema involves broadcasting movies to theaters over satellite, then displaying them on a large-venue video projector. All of the proposed digital cinema systems are 12-channel formats. The 10.2-channel format is one proposed by Tom Holman (of THX fame), but not yet implemented in a real consumer or professional format. But 10.2 could fit into the proposed digital cinema systems, so....

[Scott_DeToffol] Is there any work being done by Dolby Labs, chip manufacturers, or equipment makers to help with investment protection. As you know, this is an expensive hobby. Can Dolby work with manufactures to allow for software upgrades of devices when new surround processing technologies are released?

[Brent_Butterworth] That is definitely a major concern of ours. How a manufacturer designs its products is really up to them -- it's sort of the "Dolby way" to stick with the audio quality and let the licensees do their own thing otherwise (although we do make suggestions). I think it'd be nice for more manufacturers to make their products upgradeable, and we're already seeing a lot more of that now. How this applies to what Dolby's doing now is that we take this issue into consideration when we're considering new technologies. We don't want to do something that's going to obsolete everyone's existing gear, or stick our licensees with large inventories of unsellable product.

[Heinz_W] What will it take to sell the average consumer on surround sound, if anything?

[Brent_Butterworth] GOOD DEMOS!!!!

[Heinz_W] lol!

[Brent_Butterworth] But then there's that issue of getting them into the stores in the first place. It IS improving -- when I was at Video magazine in the early days of home theater, it was tough to get people interested in this stuff. But DVD has helped tremendously, as you can imagine.

[Bjoern_Roy] Whats your opinion on DTS ES 6.1 Discrete? Since it is backward compatible with 5.1, would you consider it to be really discrete?

[Brent_Butterworth] Depends on what you call really discrete.

[Bjoern_Roy] if it had any back surround effects in it that would be a superset of what is possible with a matrixed system, it wouldn't be able to be dematrixed on a DTS ES system.

[Brent_Butterworth] Technically, it's not really discrete, since the Cs signal is carried on Ls and Rs. But mathematically, it all subtracts just fine, so the end result could be called discrete. Whether or not discrete ES is what the director intended you to hear is really an issue for the director. So far, the stuff has been remixed for ES Discrete, since there's very little facility for 6.1-track masters. However, that could change. The real issue, I think, is how readily consumers will accept a sixth and seventh speaker into their homes. It's an issue with EX, too.

[Bjoern_Roy] Does it really subtract just fine? Because the subtraction is done after the 3 channels are compressed. The european MPEG2 Audio system had a similar problem.

[Brent_Butterworth] There are technical problems with applying their subtractive matrix technique to lossy-coded signals. However, since it's just taking place in one channel (Cs), not three (C, Ls, Rs) as with MPEG, it's probably less of a problem.

[ChrisCaine] Why is it that some DD movies sound so good in the cinema but lacking on DVD, eg. Deep Blue Sea? And would you include your trailers like DTS does? I really liked the FIGHT CLUB track.

[Brent_Butterworth] You have to remember that you heard the two on totally different systems, in different rooms. Also, the DVD sound is actually better than the films sound. Most of the DVDs are at 448 kbps, while the films are at 320 kbps. We get that question about the trailers all the time. But that's a different division, so I really don't know. I will mention it to them.

[ChrisCaine] I understand that, but generally speaking, quite a few people have noticed a general 'down' sound on DVD.

[Brent_Butterworth] Problem is, your acoustic memory just isn't long enough to do a real comparison. They could just be responding to the environment of the theater vs. the home environment. I've heard the difference between Dolby Digital at lower and higher rates, and 448 definitely sounds better than 320.

[corbinstirn] I work as a salesman at a electronics store.............I was wondering why there are not any demo DVDs available for consumers to watch. I bought one myself and brought it in....................customers really enjoyed it.

[Brent_Butterworth] It's hard for us to get the rights to all the material -- DTS does demo discs more easily 'cause they're part-owned by Universal. But we'd like to do that. Keep an eye out.

[corbinstirn] considering I still have a lot of people that are not aware of the differences between DD and Pro-logic until they hear it.

[DanR] Brent, given Dolby's close relationship with Lucasfilm, will you guys be involved in helping with the audio side of Lucasfilm's rumored DVD releases (i.e. helping to create 5.1 EX DVD soundtracks to Indy Jones and the 4 SW movies)?

[Brent_Butterworth] Probably. We have a whole bunch of guys whose job is to work as consultants on film sound production. I know one of them pretty well, and he's up at Skywalker a lot.

[Craig_Dobis] has dolby labs ever thought of having a demo dvd of film clips to demo home systems and setup speakers. i see already asked.

[Brent_Butterworth] I have an answer, actually. For various reasons, Dolby doesn't really like to do discs with lots of noises on them, but we are currently working with a record label to do a DVD-A setup and test disc for consumers.

[Bjoern_Roy] We have a consensus here at the HTF that the sonical differences between DD and DTS track on a DVD that feature both, is because a different MIX is used, or SPECIAL ATTENTION was taken. Could you explain what that means? You're correct. There are some sonic differences, but they are quite small. We've demoed the two for various press and licensees, comparing DD and DTS at all data rates used for DVD, and everyone has agreed that the differences are very tiny or nonexistent. Are different mixes actually equalized differently, are different filters used for up- or downsampling, what can make one mix SMOOTHER than another? Often a different master is used for the DTS track. But we don't know what's done to them. We can only speculate. However....there are other reasons why the two sound different. The bass management, for one, is very different. DTS didn't have a bass management spec until 1999, if memory serves, so some products defeat bass managment when they go into DTS. Also, the DTS encoders have a fixed LP filter for the LFE track; it measures -3 dB at 90 Hz. The Dolby filter measures - 3 dB at 120 Hz -- and it can be (and sometimes is) defeated entirely.

[Andy-G] what format do you believe mono movies should be encoded in on DVD? 2.0 or 1.0? Does it realy make any sense to double the same sound track in two seperate channels? Also, do you see the inclusion of both DD and DTS soundtracks as a threat to common household acceptence?

[Brent_Butterworth] Common household acceptance of one of the two formats, or the DVD format in general?

[Andy-G] person hears both formats and finds that he or she cannot tell the difference and is no longer truly interested. In further purchase because she thinks that her VHS sounds "just fine"

[Brent_Butterworth] First, I think it's best to do mono stuff in 2.0, but that's a matter of opinion. The soundfield seems pretty tiny to me coming just from a center speaker atop the TV. If they can't tell the difference between Dolby Digital and DTS, that's really a problem for DTS. Dolby Digital (or PCM) is mandated for the format, so we're going to be there regardless. And acceptance of the DVD format is going better than even its biggest boosters dared hope!

[Vince_Maskeeper] okay, mine is slightly long, so you'll have to forgive me: There has been a lot of discussion, both on the HTF and beyond about Dolby Digital on Laserdisc as the medium vs. Dolby Digital on DVD as the medium. It seems that most people who have done a-b comparisons have perferred the DD sound on laser (me included). Do you have any insight into what a possibly diffences could exist (I would have assume in the digital realm bits is bits). I just found it puzzling: even if they come from different source masters (which I assume), 99% of the time people prefer the LD. That seems like more than coincidence. You'd figure it would be closer to 50-50% if it were just a matter of source tapes.. I know you're marketing end, not maybe as technical, but wondered if you had any thoughts on this LD is superior for Dolby Digital idea?

[Brent_Butterworth] LDs are encoded at 384 kbps, and DVDs are mostly at 448 nowadays. With Dolby Digital, DTS, and MLP, you've talking packetized data. It's not really susceptible to the effect of jitter. It is possibly the effect of different masters. Oops, I forgot -- there are some minor differences in DD encoding in the RF mode, which is used for LDs. I doubt that they would make the sound better, and having heard the difference between 384 and 448, I think there's no way a 448 DVD wouldn't sound at least as good as the LD.

[RonEastman] Hi Brent. Dolby's paper on DTS reports the superiority of the higher bitrate DD versus the lower bitrate DD mastering. Since Dolby's own studies show an advantage, what do your consultants do to encourage studios to use the higher bitrate?

[Brent_Butterworth] So far, they've just encouraged studios to use the higher bit rate! But we have started bringing in film sound guys for comparisons of all these formats in state-of-the-art 5.1 mastering studios. I think that'll help when they hear the difference in such a critical environment.

[AdamBarratt] Will PLII processors also include Pro logic processing for those who wish to listen to Dolby Surround soundtracks as they were heard in theatres? Or is Pro Logic headed the way of the Dodo?

[Brent_Butterworth] That's optional, although I think most of the processors will include it. PLII has an emulation mode that uses the PLII logic, but sums the surrounds and HP filters them at 7 kHz. Or the manufacturers can use the original Pro Logic. But yeah, I think that in a year, except in real low-end product, PLII will replace original PL. Did I mention that PLII was developed by Jim Fosgate, who is like the Obi Wan Kenobe of matrix decoding? I should also point out...that it's unlikely there will be analog PLII chips, whereas there are plenty of very affordable analog PL chips, so PL may be around in low-end product for quite some time to come.

[ParkerClack] Some of our members have actually set down with Jim Fosgate and seen and heard his tube version of PLII.

[Brent_Butterworth] lucky you! I've never heard it

[NickSo] this also is reagarding DPL2: When do you expect DPL2 to become as popular as say, DTS? and how much/which price range will it be in? Like maybe in a processor?

[Brent_Butterworth] Kenwood will be shipping a $300 PLII receiver (with DD and DTS) in April. I think PLII will become more popular than DTS very quickly. It has a lot more applications -- car audio, for example -- and it's more useful overall. It works with all your old software, so you have literally millions of things you can listen to with it.

[RicP] Hi Brent, I was wondering what your opinion was on adding more channels to the current 5.1 setup. With both Dolby and DTS it seems pushing towards more channels, do you think that more channels will be accepted by the mainstream consumer? And where do you think it will stop? Thanks!

[Brent_Butterworth] Oh, MAN! I wish I knew! Obviously, I have to doubt that 6.1 will ever be as big as 5.1. In a lot of homes, it's hard enough to get two surround speakers positioned properly, much less three or four. Where will it stop? I just don't know. If we go much further, it's hard to imagine many consumers installing the systems themselves. If there's ever a 10.2 format, I think it's likely to be found only in very high-end installations, and most consumers will downmix it to 5.1.

[RicP] Thanks, I'd love to have a 10.1 system, but will most consumers actually spend that much! :)

[Steven_Simon] What are your feelings as far as DVD Audio, SACD, and 5.1 channel music?? Where is it heading?? And where does Dolby lie in that mix, being an Audio Purist, I prefer 2 Channle Stereo, thanks

[Brent_Butterworth] I think it rocks! I have been playing around with DVD-A and have really enjoyed many of the mixes and the extras. The ELP disc was a really emotional experience for me -- a band I'd written off more than 20 years ago, but was suddenly reminded why I used to own all their albums and went to see them live. I hope it's heading for mass-market acceptance. I think DVD-A players will become very affordable very fast, and that will help. And of course, the record industry will eventually get real good at 5.1 mixing.

[ParkerClack] Was that the Brain Salad Surgery ELP that you heard? Also, have your heard PLII in action on a two channel CD and what effect does it have on the overall sound?

[Brent_Butterworth] Yes, Brain Salad Surgery. The mix of "Still...You Turn Me On" is a must-hear. PLII works great on 2-channel CDs. It is nothing like original PL in that application. It basically makes the whole thing sound like a 5.1 mix.

[ParkerClack] I'll bet killer. I saw them live too. You can never forget setting Keith Emerson flying around in the air playing his grand. :) Thanks.

[Brent_Butterworth] With PLII, you get lots of backing vocals, ambience, and some instruments in the back, but the front soundstage stays really solid.

[BarryLieberman] Brent, as someone who has been involved in many facets of the ht/home audio industry, how would you counsel recent college grads anxious to become immersed in the business end of it?

[Brent_Butterworth] You mean engineering grads or otherwise?

[BarryLieberman] More along the lines of those aspiring to get involved in the marketing/sales side.

[Brent_Butterworth] First, go get a job at a local dealer. That gives you real-world experience that will help you a lot. If you have a marketing degree (or something similar), it would be a lot easier if you lived in the L.A. or N.J. areas -- that's where most of the manufacturers are.

[BarryLieberman] Specifically, I had an interview with David Birch-Jones of Denon in December, but was passed over for someone with previous experience...I was curious as to whether getting my CEDIA license would help

[Brent_Butterworth] It might help. Wouldn't hurt. And demand for installers is very high. [Brent_Butterworth] done

[Jason_Naper] Just wanted to thank our guest and I'm wondering what the difference is between Dolby and DTS.

[Brent_Butterworth] I could do -- and have done -- entire papers on that!

[Jason_Naper] Is everything moving to the DTS side?

[Brent_Butterworth] One thing I can say is that Dolby Digital is much more broadly accepted -- it's in the DVD standard,and in the U.S. (and many worldwide) DTV standards. No, I think even DTS would admit that Dolby Digital will remain the primary format for multichannel audio compression. It's much, much bigger than DTS. They have positioned themselves as a specialty company, not as a mainstream competitor.

[Bjoern_Roy] A lot of people, even on this forum, let alone the average viewer, don't really understand Dialog Normalization. Since most DD tracks show a 4db difference in overall volume to their DTS counterparts, a lot of people might perceive the higher volume as better sounding in an A/B test. If i would work for Dolby that would itch me. Whats your opinion on Warner choosing to record all their DD/DTS DVDs with a DN value to make both tracks equal?

[Brent_Butterworth] In terms of sound quality, it doesn't really matter. What you'll notice, though, is that any disc with a dialnorm setting of -31 will sound louder than your other DVDs (and DTV programs, if you have that), and you'll have to turn the sound up. That's just what dialnorm was supposed to prevent. It's a great technology, and it's a shame that it wouldn't be used for this reason.

[AdamBarratt] As I understand it, Dolby Digital is a constantly evolving technology. Could you give us a rough idea of what generation the system has reached and how often evolutionary iterations are implemented in the system.

[Brent_Butterworth] Great question! We're working on version 7.0 right now.... ...and that will include a Surround EX flag, and a flag for material that was produced with HDCD A/D conversion. Since DD came out in 1993, and we're on version 7.0 (with lots of "point-something" versions in there), that means we've average a major revision every year or so.

[NathanPatrick] Returning to an earlier question, I am an electrical engineering student and am interested in a career in audio/video do I get my foot in the door? I have the option of coop and was wondering if you knew any companies that hire coops.

[Brent_Butterworth] Coop? Is that like an internship? And where do you live?

[NathanPatrick] sort of, Cincinnati....Go to the University of Cincinnati. We alternate work/study quarters.

[Brent_Butterworth] Not much around there for CE. I don't know about coops, but one thing you might want to consider if you want to work in CE engineering is that much of that takes place on the West Coast. I don't know about other companies, but Dolby is always looking -- we always seem to have vacancies to fill. If you want, send me a resume or something and I'll get it to the right person.

[Steve_Simon] With PLII only being in Super Expensive Gear (Tag M. ECT...) right now, how long will we have to wait until it's a mainstream format, and affordable?? Killer with Chow Yun Fat would scream for PLII Processing!!!

[Brent_Butterworth] You only have to wait until April, for Kenwood's $300 PLII receiver. I think Onkyo will come in at $300, too.

[Dan_B] Dolby has been involved recently in the licensing and marketing of their technologies in videogames. Being a gamer in addition to a home theater enthusiast, I was wondering if you had any comments or insight about Dolby's technology being used in gaming or applications other than movies. Thanks for attending this chat!

[Brent_Butterworth] Yeah, I think it adds a lot to games, as you can imagine! We will be coming out with new technology very soon that will make Dolby Digital much easier to incorporate into gaming platforms, and we're also involved in all of the latest (and upcoming) game platforms. But I'm not the expert on that....

[AdamBarratt] Could you provide a little detail about Dolby Labs' role in the ongoing development of Digital Cinema?

[Brent_Butterworth] Sorry, that's somebody else's bag! We have about 550 people working at Dolby, so there's always a lot going on I don't know about. But I'll study up so I'm ready for that question next time.

[NedVogler] First of all Brent, thanks for coming! In regards to DPL II, do you know of any manufacturers that will be offering add-on decoders for DPL II which will integrate with current amps. and receivers with 5.1 inputs?

[Brent_Butterworth] There's a question I haven't heard! I don't know of any manufacturer planning that, although they could do it pretty easily. I think with Kenwood and others coming out so aggressively with affordable PLII product, few manufacturers will want to make an outboard decoder.

[Vince_Maskeeper] Wondering about any possible test discs for home theater from dolby in the future. I know you touched on a DVD-A calibration disc. I owned the "Dolby Test and Demo disc Volume 1" and have found it to be an INCREDIBLE source of calibration tones. Just wondering why dolby is not interested in coming out with an official disc along the lines of Video Essentials for proper audio calibration? Seems like a natural product to come direct from Dolby, and there certain is a market (as VE and Avia sales have shown).

[Brent_Butterworth] Vince, I can't really answer that question. I just don't know. Guess I should ask!

[Vince_Maskeeper] Well maybe something to suggest!

[Chris_Chiarella] Hey, Brent! Sorry I missed the forum that you, Dave DelGrosso of DTS and Maureen Jenson of HOME THEATER Magazine did at CES last month. Two questions: What was said and was it bloody?

[Brent_Butterworth] Oh, gosh, I can barely remember! The comment that stuck most with me was John Dahl's of THX -- he acknowledged that dipoles aren't appropriate for monitoring material (i.e., 5.1 music) that's recorded with 5 identical monitors equidistant from the listener. And he said THX is investigating solutions to that problem -- maybe some kind of automatic switching! Sounds very cool to me. No, it wasn't bloody, although I did spill my water glass. Say hi to the gang at HT/HTI for me, Chris!

[AaronMK] I am a college (UVA 1st year Engineering). To follow up on a previous question. What would be a good minor if I wish to become involed in the creation and mixing of movie soundtracks? I Realize it is probably a tight field so I would not make it a major :)

[Brent_Butterworth] I don't know 'cause I'm not involved with that end of the business. But I could ask one of the guys who is.

[Chris_Maynard] is there any value added (sound quality) to going above the 448kbps mark with the DD codec?

[Brent_Butterworth] I haven't heard it, but I'm hoping to experiment with that on my home recording rig. I expect there would be a difference, since I think the difference between 384 and 448 is audible through a good system.

[Tommy_R] Hi Brent, if you don't mind me asking, I and I'm sure others would like to know what current components make up your "personal system"? What does a man behind Dolby Labs prefer to use in the comfort of his own home?

[Brent_Butterworth] I just moved, and every time I move, I change out my system. I move, on the average, almost every year! Right now, I have an Outlaw receiver and one of the Definitive sub/sat systems (can't remember which one), although I am getting some of the little Genelecs, plus a sub TBD. My video rig is a Zenith Pro900 projector, an RCA DTC100, and a JVC DVD-A player. Plus lots of other stuff!

[RonEastman] This kind of relates to Chris's question. Has there been any thought of developing a "Super Dolby Digital" with a higher bit rate to compete with the niche that DTS is filling?

[Brent_Butterworth] No, we don't think it's necessary. Once you get rid of all the variables and compare DD at 448 kbps to DTS at 1509 kbps, you hear that the differences are almost nothing. (Actually, some people think DD sounds better, and I think it definitely sounds better at 448 than DTS does at 754 kbps.) Our attitude is, you don't NEED to do that. When you hear an A/B comparison with the original master, Dolby Digital is almost transparent at 448 (no codec).

[BarryLieberman] This tangentially relates to an earlier inquiry; I've read many different interpretations of ideal surround, everything from Brian Eno's early 2 fronts and one rear to Ambisonics, to the more modern incarnartions. Do you believe there to be a 'golden' format that is commensurate with human hearing properties? 5.1, 6.1, 10.1...?

[Brent_Butterworth] It'd be hard to exhaust the human ear's ability to locate sound.

[BarryLieberman] Indeed, but where does diminishing returns come in to play?

[Brent_Butterworth] I think 5.1 will be the standard for surround sound for a long time to come -- maybe forever, at least in the home. Where the returns diminish is a matter of opinion. I'd say beyond 5.1!

[Bjoern_Roy] Final question: Do you have a bad conscience if you ever listen to a DVD in DTS?

[Brent_Butterworth] No. DTS sounds good. All these codecs basically do -- DD, DTS, etc. Wait till you hear AAC! Luckily enough, we license that one, too. d

[RonEpstein] I want to take this opportunity to thank our guest, Brent Butterworth. It has been an absolute pleasure to have you here tonight. I also want to thank Ned Vogler for a great job Moderating this chat.

[Brent_Butterworth] Hey, thank YOU! It has been a lot of fun.Great job, guys! Let's do it again sometime!

[RonEpstein] You are ALWAYS welcome back for a chat

[ParkerClack] Brent. How do you like the Outlaw and I would like to suggest that you check out an SV Subwoofer that you can get to through our forum since you are still deciding on one.

[Brent_Butterworth] I love the Outlaw and would like to hear an SVS!

[RonEpstein] I'll open the floodgates so people can tahnk you personally, Brent....

[Brent_Butterworth] Thanks, guys! It's been fun!

Session Close: Tue Feb 06 23:06:18 2001

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