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Dolby rolls out 7.1, intros new consumer tech

At Surrounded event, Dolby unveils its 7.1 movie sound technology and new theater 3D projection engineering, as well as consumer software packages that bring Dolby's latest audio improvements to home devices.

Dolby Laboratories invited the tech and gadget press to San Francisco to sample its new 7.1 Surround Sound technology, the latest 3D theater improvements, and a suite of consumer items that bring Dolby sound into the home.

The 7.1 system configuration adds two additional rear speakers to the conventional 5.1 arrangement in theaters, creating a set of four surround channels and three front channels. Multiple in-theater demonstrations--including a screening of 7.1-native "Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon"--featured how 7.1 forges a more 360-degree sound environment. "Cars 2" and the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" were also mixed and presented in 7.1, but the sheer audio assault of Michael Bay's robotized chaos in "Dark of the Moon" was the obvious choice if Dolby wanted to show off a bit.

One crucial consumer-themed portion of the press event unveiled the latest features of Dolby's Home Theater software. The system allows users to create and save their own stereo surround presets for AV receivers, Blu-ray players, televisions, game systems, and PCs. The latest features can now manipulate the sound outputs of smartphones and tablets to simulate Dolby surround effects using an HDMI output.

One of the more interesting moments of the conference came during one of the event's more casual moments. While socializing during down time, the topic of conversation turned to the irritating fact that Apple products don't include Dolby technology. Despite driving the consumer computer market, Apple's desktops, MacBooks, iPhones, iPods, and iPads don't come Dolby ready, thus preventing the audio developer from providing its Home Theater software and other engineering for Apple's millions of movie-loving users.

When I asked the obvious question of when Dolby and Apple might reach across Northern California to forge a working relationship, I got the expected "no comment." No Dolby executive would go anywhere near a solid answer. But smiles and knowing looks abounded between folks in the know. That may mean nothing, but it's something to keep in mind during the coming months as Apple announces new products and specs.