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Dolby sounds out PC market

Dolby Labs, better known for technology in theaters and home stereos, next week will release new software that aims to let garden-variety PC stereo speakers deliver surround sound.

Audio technology company Dolby Labs is releasing new software that aims to deliver surround sound through ordinary PC speakers.

Dolby Virtual Speaker, to be launched Tuesday, promises to create the effect of a 5.1-channel speaker system using normal stereo PC equipment. That means that instead of hearing distinct sounds from two speakers on either side of the PC monitor, the listener will experience the illusion of hearing sound from an additional two speakers behind him or her, and one directly in front. The ".1" refers to a subwoofer effect.

"The PC opens up a whole new world in terms of what we're able to deliver, especially given the extent of the PC's processing power and the fact that so many people are connected through the Internet," said Greg Rodehau, a Dolby spokesman. "It's a whole new world of possibility for entertainment."

The Virtual Speaker release is part of Dolby's concerted push to make more of a name for itself in the burgeoning market for PC-based home entertainment.

Dolby and its newly beefed-up marketing division intend to play up the role of the company's software in Microsoft's media player and Windows XP Media Center, an upcoming version of the operating system that runs on Hewlett-Packard computers and focuses on television, audio and DVD capabilities.

Surround sound is also becoming a key offering in digital media products. Microsoft last month claimed it was providing the first Web-based surround sound release with the Windows Media Player version of Peter Gabriel's latest album, "Up."

While Dolby's entry into the computer audio market dates back to 1998, when DVD players first started using its technology, the 37-year-old privately held San Francisco company is now stepping up its efforts to whet consumers' and computer makers' appetites for its PC software with its "Dolby in PC" campaign.

That effort, an extension of a strategy that prominently placed the Dolby name on household systems and before motion pictures, is intended to boost the company's brand among consumers as an extra worth paying for when choosing a PC.

Dolby is hawking its wares as crucial add-ons to music and video playback, as well as to computer games, where surround sound can help aurally situate other players.

One analyst said the PC market was fertile ground for Dolby and that computer makers stood to gain from the company's growth there.

"PCs are a logical extension for them, especially as the PC becomes a hub for digital music and other media," said Susan Kevorkian, an analyst with market researcher IDC. "Having Dolby on a PC gives the cachet of--if not an audiophile's experience, then at least a high-quality audio experience. And that's to the PC manufacturer's benefit, to leverage that kind of recognition."