How We Started and the Simplicity of the Modern System

March 19, 2019

WiSA’s Tony Ostrom hops in the WABAC Machine To Show Us Multi-Channel Audio’s Humble Beginnings

The earliest forms of home theater or home cinema began in the 1950s and were centered around home movies captured on 8mm film. Mono (single channel) audio and extremely simple audio systems typically accompanied a projector and video screen to create an effective, yet modest by today’s standards, experience. It wasn’t until the 1970s when multi-channel audio recording and playback technologies began to take a marketable shape. Remember Quadraphonic sound?

In the 1980s, we saw new multi-channel audio formats begin to appear more regularly in major motion pictures. The most common media formats used to enjoy this content in the home were the VHS cassette and the laserdisc. The first mainstream technologies to allow users to enjoy a “surround sound“ experience was Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby Pro Logic II. Basically, the audio tracks on VHS tapes and laserdisc contained information that could be processed by the VHS player or laserdisc player so “rear“ or “surround“ content could be sent to an amplifier and rear speakers to create an audio experience that “surrounded” the listener. This led to the creation and first uses of discrete 5.1 audio in which sound was recorded for systems utilizing five channels (left and right speakers, a center channel speaker, left and right rear speakers and a dedicated subwoofer (the .1). This was known as AC-3 or Dolby Digital.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s home theater systems with multi-channel audio became extremely popular. These systems were typically comprised of a “big screen“ tube or rear projection television, a VHS, laserdisc or DVD player, an audio/video receiver and six speakers. The media player (VHS, laserdisc, etc.) was connected to the receiver with multiple cables for audio and video. The receiver provided all of the amplifier power for the speakers and was connected to them physically with copper wire. The receiver was also connected to the TV to supply video through one or more cables. Installation and set-up could be somewhat complicated but the end result was a dramatically improved audio experience.

In the last 10 to 15 years we have seen massive paradigm shifts on several fronts within the home theater category. An incredibly competitive TV market coupled with exciting new screen technologies has forced prices down and screen sizes and performance up. The way we access content has undergone a tremendous metamorphosis. Rather than buying or renting physical media we can now access content through smart devices including TVs, gaming systems, media sticks, DVD Players, computers, and more. Much of this content comes to us in multi-channel audio formats. We can also avoid the complexity of audio/video receivers and speaker wires through the use of wireless audio transmitters and speakers that use the WiSA interoperable multi-channel audio standard.

The modern home theater, or “immersive home entertainment system”, is extremely simple to create and offers better experiences than ever before. Streaming content is simple to access and navigate. Big, beautiful screens are more vivid and less expensive than their predecessors. Audio comes into our homes in highly produced, immersive formats and is easily distributed wirelessly to speakers all around us. This combination of content and technology allows us to simply and easily build the perfect home entertainment experience and truly immerse ourselves in our favorite movies, TV shows, sports, games, and music.

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