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Dolby does digital TV

Sound company is promoting Dolby Contrast and Dolby Vision, two technologies--one real, one on the drawing board--to extend its reach into digital TV and cinema.

CHIBA, Japan--Dolby, the sound company, is getting into TVs.

The company is at Ceatec, the large Japanese trade show taking place here this week, to promote Dolby Contrast and Dolby Vision, two technologies (one currently real, one on the drawing board) to extend its reach into digital TV and cinema.

Both Dolby Contrast and Dolby Vision are essentially ways to apply the dimmer switch concept to light emitting diodes. LEDs are being increasingly used as the backlight in flat panel LCD TVs. Dolby Contrast allows the TV to dynamically adjust. One LED could go completely black while its neighbor could be full or high, or the two could offer light that creates slightly different shades of tan. "You get much better blacks," said Gaven Wang, senior video product manager at Dolby.

Dolby Contrast can be used on current LEDs while Dolby Vision is more of a long-term technology that will apply to LEDs that emit more lumens, or light, per watt.

Black has always been a problem for LCDs. As a result, the Dolby technology could heighten the competition with plasma. Plasma TVs do well with black, unlike conventional LCDs.

The technology, according to analyst Richard Doherty of Envisioneering, could even create a third category of displays. Interestingly, NXP Semiconductor, formerly Philips Semiconductor, has come up with a technology that functions differently but with similar results.

The problem now lies in finding customers. Dolby has no signed contracts yet to announce but hopes TVs employing the technology will come out next year or in 2009. The fact that Dolby is at Ceatec, where many of the world's largest TV makers are showing off their latest goods, shows, however, that the company is seeking the right people.

Dolby didn't invent this technology itself. It acquired it from a company called Brightside that it bought. But Dolby is no stranger to video. Founder Ray Dolby started out by developing a system for removing noise and artifacts out of black-and-white video footage. The industry went to color and Dolby went to black and white.

Dolby also demonstrated its 3D cinema technology. Theater owners pay about $26,000 for the system, which revolves around doing a software upgrade to digital servers. That price tag is relatively cheap, according to Dolby. The company's 3D technology will get a full international airing when Beowulf premieres later this year. Many 3D theaters will use Dolby's tech.