SRS-Branded Volume-Leveling Device Due

September 18, 2009
By: Joseph Palenchar

Santa Ana, Calif. - SRS Labs plans to market an SRS-branded TV-audio processor said to eliminate abrupt and annoying changes in perceived volume levels when TV channels are changed or loud TV commercials interrupt a broadcast.

The company's MyVolume processor, which consumers insert between a TV and cable/satellite set-top box, will be available in time for Christmas in two active versions, both small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. One version connects to HDMI cables running between a set-top box and a TV. It will cost no more than $200. The second device will connect via audio RCA cables and will be much less expensive, the company said without getting specific.

SRS is also talking to other suppliers to bring MyVolume devices to market under their own brands.

The company's MyVolume processor joins one other SRS-branded CE device on the market, a sound-enhancing iWow accessory that consumers plug into an iPod to enhance sound performance. The company also sells sound-enhancing PC software to consumers.

For the most part, however, the supplier of audio post-processing technologies has focused on licensed its intellectual property to makers of TVs, PCs, A/V receivers (AVRs) and other consumer devices. The technologies include multiple virtual-surround technologies and SRS Circle Surround II, which up-converts two-channel and matrix-surround sources to 6.1-channel surround.

SRS also licenses TruVolume volume-leveling technology, which is incorporated in MyVolume and is built into a handful of TVs from Vizio, Samsung and Best Buy under its Insignia brand. The technology also appears in a powered Vizio sound bar. SRS is also marketing TruVolume to makers of AV receivers, portable media players, PCs, cellphones and OEM autosound systems.

Though TruSurround can be built into TVs, set-top boxes, surround bars and AVRs, SRS chose to introduce a standalone MyVolume processor to reach the large number of consumers who use legacy set-top boxes, aren't in the market for another TV, and don't connect their TVs to AVRs or sound bars, said chief technology officer Alan Kraemer. The first set-top box with TruVolume, however, could be available late this year or early next, and some set-top boxes now in consumers' homes could be upgraded with TruVolume software downloaded by the cable or satellite operators, he noted.

For these consumers and for MyVolume purchasers, the SRS technology will eliminate the annoyances caused by cable and satellite content providers that deliver audio content at different levels from one another, Kraemer said. Commercial tend to be much louder than a TV program to catch viewers' attention, he added. These volume fluctuations force consumers to continually adjust volume, but with MyVolume, consumers set a preferred volume level only once, he explained.

MyVolume and TruVolume also help level out volume differences that occur within a program when cheers, for example, erupt during a sports event, but the technology is implemented less aggressively in these circumstances to "preserve some of the program's original dynamics," Kraemer said.

Compared to competing volume-leveling technologies, Kraemer claimed, TruVolume keeps volume levels much more consistent while "completely eliminating" such audible side effects as the pumping of a soundtrack's background noise, such as rain, during pauses in dialog. SRS found "a new way to analyze the noise content of a signal to determine if it's something you want to hear," he said.

Other sound-leveling technologies in the CE market are not as aggressive in maintaining consistent volume levels, Kraemer contended, because if they did, they would produce audible artifacts.

Like other digital noise-leveling technologies, TruSurround constantly monitors and adjusts the audio signal, and it concentrates on leveling the volume of mid-band frequencies because human ears are more sensitive to those frequencies. TruVolume analyzes 20 frequency bands "and takes the appropriate action, which is less aggressive in some bands," Kraemer said.

The HDMI version of My Volume will pass on only the two-channel PCM output of a set-top box, not a Dolby Digital 5.1 bitstream. SRS chose to do that because set-top boxes default to two-channel PCM over HDMI, although consumers can go into the set-top's menu to transfer Dolby Digital over HDMI, Kraemer explained. Many TVs won't recognize a Dolby Digital signal via their HDMI inputs, and many that do will emit clicking and popping sounds, he continued.