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Dolby Stereo Digital cinema sound is made possible by a new digital coding technique, Dolby AC-3, that enables high-quality, 5.1-channel surround sound in less space than is needed for just one channel on a CD. AC-3 wil l also provide digital surround sound with the future US HDTV system, and is being used now in two-channel form for direct broadcast satellite systems. It is the basis for Dolby Surround AC-3, the upcoming equivalent for the home of Dolby Stereo Digital in the cinema.

Like the film format, Dolby Surround AC-3 provides separate channels for left, right, and center front speakers; two surround speakers; and a subwoofer at the listener's option. Two surround channels provi de more depth, accurate localization, and overall realism, while superior channel separation makes Dolby Surround AC-3 as suited to music-only recordings and broadcasts as to video formats. It may very well open up new worlds of multichannel sound reprodu ction.

Dolby Surround AC-3 program material can be decoded according to preference, budget, and listening space. It can be heard in mono, two-channel stereo, four-channel Dolby Surround, or full-bore 5.1-channel Dolby Surround AC-3. Low bass can be routed only to the system's wide-range or subwoofer speakers, and the listener can even tailor dynamic range to the environment.

Dolby Surround AC-3 has already been demonstrated from prototypes of a new LaserDisc. Another major step in its progress has been the introduction of ICs capable of AC-3 decoding. While consumer products may become available in 1995, costs are likely to be relatively high. However, the basic five-channel speaker configuration is the same as today's analog Dolby Surround, a nd to ensure compatibility with Dolby Surround program material, products with digital decoding will also feature Pro Logic decoding as standard.

So far, digital technology's most direct benefit for the home listener has been the Compact Disc. Yet for all its ergonomic virtues and resistance to wear, in terms of fundamental sound quality the improvement afforded by the CD over the best analog formats is incremental. Multichannel digital surround sound, on other hand, might bring about a true revol ution in the way sound is reproduced and enjoyed in the home.

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