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Dolby, MS help PCs imitate stereos

Dolby Laboratories wants Microsoft to help surround PC users in sound.

Dolby Laboratories and Microsoft want PC users to get the same quality stereo sound that they get from their stereos.

The two companies have started working together to develop multimedia software encoded with Dolby audio technology that would give the PC the high-end quality sound that consumers demand from other media.

Chip manufacturers Motorola and Intel are already working closely with the laboratory to implement "virtual surround sound" on the desktop. This would give a PC user sitting close to a monitor and speakers the impression of hearing not just left channel and right channel, but sound from above, in front, and behind. The technique can provide a surround-sound effect with only two speakers by using Dolby decoding, though the effect is most evident with six.

Although the Dolby-Microsoft agreement is only preliminary, analysts say that Dolby's technology seems to be gaining force as systems vendors look to the convergence of the PC and consumer devices. "If implemented correctly, it's another step in the PC's inexorable march toward becoming a all-encompassing consumer appliance," said Adam Schoenfeld, vice president of publishing for Jupiter Communications.

The Dolby technology is already encoded in some software, mostly with game stations. If Dolby sound becomes widely used, some analysts believe that consumers might start using PCs to listen to music in place of stereos.

"The music industry has always had a wary eye on the PC because of the threat it poses," Schoenfeld said. "One palliative has been that PC fidelity is nowhere near that of home stereo. This is an important step in bridging the fidelity gap."