I’ve finally figured out what the big deal is with Dolby Surround 7.1, which is not new and has actually been installed in some 2100 theatres. But until tonight I didn’t fully understand what makes this sound system a distinctive development. The ins and outs were discussed this evening by several sound specialists at a Dolby headquarters seminar in San Francisco, but I didn’t really get it until I spoke to Dolby marketing manager Stuart Bowling after it ended.
At this evening’s Dolby Labs seminar on Dolby 7.1 Surround: (l. to r.) Eric Brevig, Skywalker Sound’s Michael Semanick, Transformers 3/Tree of Life sound designer Eric Aadahl, director-producer Rohan Sippy, sound designer Kinson Tsang, and (far right) Stuart Bowling, Dolby Laboratories technical marketing manager.
So here’s the shot in layman’s terms. Dolby Surround 7.1 basically delivers super-clear, highly immersive sound from four discreet sound “zones” — front, left, right and rear. But that’s what Dolby 5.1 delivered, right? No, there’s a difference. To really hear all four channels with Dolby 5.1 you had to sit in a theatre’s “sweet spot,” which is more or less dead center. Dolby 7.1 delivers loud and distinct super-quad sound in almost any section in the theatre. You don’t need to be in a sweet spot to really hear it. So there you go. That’s the thing.**
Early this evening Dolby management and publicists hosted an elegant dinner on the third floor of company’s headquarters on Potrero Street. I arrived a bit late due to my Burbank-to SFO plane being delayed by fog. The seminar, an agreeably informative thing, lasted for a couple of hours. The panelists were Eric Brevig, Skywalker Sound’s Michael Semanick, Transformers 3/Tree of Life sound designer Eric Aadahl, director-producer Rohan Sippy, sound designer Kinson Tsang, and moderator Stuart Bowling, Dolby Laboratories’ technical marketing honcho.
I asked a question about how everyone at sound seminars always talks about creating big, loud soundtracks for big tentpole blockbusters while I prefer subtle, more human-level sounds, and that the world of aural cinema (including the realm of Dolby Surround 7.1) is far too vast and delicate and all-encompassing for seminars like this one to focus only on the sounds of explosions, blam-blams, face-punchings, rib-punchings, gunfire, helicopter blades, and blah, blah.
There’s a breakfast tomorrow morning from 8 am to 9 am, and then Ioan Allen‘s “The Egg Show” (i.e., some kind of instructive lecture about the history of sound design) and then a lunch and bunch of other seminars and screenings of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen and Dum Maaro Dum and then a cocktail party from 8 pm to 10pm and so on. A very full day.
** Dolby Surround 7.1 is also savorable through Bluray and other non-theatrical modes with the same four-channel discretion.
Dolby technical marketing manager Stuart Bowling, a.k.a. “Answer Man.”