Exhibition orgs release requirements for audio technologies

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In a pre-emptive move designed to avoid another proprietary sound format debacle, exhibition groups in the U.S. and Europe have released a set of requirements for new immersive/3D audio technologies. The requirements spell out two approaches to sound system setups that both adhere to open source standards. These approaches would make it possible for theaters to choose to present films using any new immersive/3D audio format that's designed to the open source standard. The National Association of Theater Owners and the International Union of Cinemas have joined together to endorse the requirements.

"We just spent over $2 billion dollars on a digital picture upgrade," said NATO president and CEO John Fithian. "We can't be asked to upgrade sound now if there's a potential conflict between proprietary formats."

Fithian also cited NATO's past experience with dueling sound formats as a reason for the standards. In the 1990s exhibs faced a series of quandaries when choosing how to outfit their theaters for the best possible sound. There were competing proprietary formats -- and making the wrong choice could prove very costly because not all of the formats lasted. SDDS, for example, was phased out leaving exhibs to either abandon their equipment and install an entirely new system or piece together technical and repair support on their own once Sony decided they were no longer going to do so.

"While it is critical that we continue to innovate, it is also critical that we work together to implement new technologies in a rational manner that serves all stakeholders," said AMC Theatres' EVP operations and NATO technology committee chairman John McDonald.

Currently both Dolby's Atmos and Barco's Auro-3D have gained fans. LucasFilm released "Red Tails" in Auro-3D and DreamWorks Animation has a strategic alliance with Barco (Nov. 1). Warner will release "Pacific Rim" in Atmos; previous titles released with the technology include "Brave" and "Life of Pi."

Dolby declined to comment said in a statement it would "continue to work with industry bodies, including NATO, to share our expertise and address best practices as the evaluation of potential open standards continues."

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