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Dolby Digital: High-definition audio

Say, "Goodbye boring stereo, hello 5.1 surround" once high definition launches, as the Dolby Digital format becomes standard for all HD technology. Crave swung by the company's London office to find out what's in store

Dolby is like the Microsoft of the home cinema world -- its technology is in everything, so it's kinda taken for granted. But with high definition approaching, the Dolby Digital badge will make the leap from DVD player to Sky HD boxes and next-gen games consoles. Crave scootled over to the company's offices to get a demonstration of the latest high-definition material, as well as chew the fat on videogaming and the latest in headphone surround sound.

While Sky has used Dolby Digital 5.1 on some of its premium movie broadcasts, the majority of programmes have been transmitted in boring old two-channel stereo. Many people just went to Blockbusters and rented the DVD with a full 5.1 soundtrack instead. That'll all change when Sky HD kicks into gear this summer, at which point Dolby Digital 5.1 will become standard for all hi-def broadcasts.

That means you'll get the full atmosphere of the stadia during the World Cup, the full surround experience in HD movies and added clarity in documentaries. Dolby showed Crave a demo of the BBC's animal drama Pride, running in high definition with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It sounded brilliant -- but then it was playing through a top-of-the-range Pioneer plasma and a high-end B&W speaker system. However, it's true that home cinema owners will now be able to make the most of their systems all the time, not just when they get a movie out at the weekend.

Dolby also showed off its new Xbox 360 and Crave had the onerous duty of playing Project Gotham Racing 3 on its kick-ass system. Dolby worked with the game's developers Bizarre to create over 40 individual engine noises for Project Gotham 3, and these come into play depending where you are in the car. Dolby has no official  comment on PlayStation 3, as the Blu-ray format still hasn't been finalised as yet, but it's highly likely that PS3 games will also boast Dolby Digital soundtracks.

Following on from Creative's HQ-2300D headphones, we also got a chance to see JVC's latest Dolby Headphone technology. The SU-DH1 (pictured left) is a surround-sound processor that will take a Dolby soundtrack and remix it into a virtual multi-channel experience through your headphones. This is particularly good if you're on a long-haul flight sat next to screaming children, as you can replicate your own home cinema during the in-flight entertainment. We liked the Creative headphones, but the Dolby Heaphone processor took batteries and would wear them out after two days' use. Sadly, the same goes for the JVC surround processor, as it's powered by one AA battery -- 10 hours is all you get before it's dead.

We'll be talking more about Dolby with the company's technical manager Andy Dowell in the next CNET.co.uk podcast. -GC