Apple patent involves an optimized sound reproduction system

Apple has applied for a patent (number 20170105084) for a “directivity optimized sound reproduction system” that looks perfect for an Apple-branded HDTV should the tech giant every revisit that possibility — although it would be nice to image such a system with a next gen iMac or Mac Pro.

The patent is for a system and method for controlling the directivity of dialogue channels separate from music and effects channels in a piece of sound program content for movies and television. In the patent filing, Apple notes that sound program content, including movies and television shows, are often composed of several distinct audio components, including dialogue of characters/actors, music and sound effects. Each of these component parts called stems may include multiple spatial channels and are mixed together prior to delivery to a consumer.

For example, a production company may mix a 5.1 channel dialogue stream or stem, a 5.1 music stream, and a 5.1 effects stream into a single master 5.1 audio mix or stream. This master stream may be delivered to a consumer through a recordable medium (e.g., DVD or Blu-ray) or through an online streaming service. Although mixing dialogue, music, and effects to form a single master mix or stream is convenient for purposes of distribution, this process often results in poor audio reproduction for the consumer, Apple says. The company wants to alleviate this problem.

Here’s Apple’s summary of the patent: “An audio system is described that receives a piece of sound program content for playback from a content distribution system. The piece of sound program content may include a multi-channel dialogue signal and a combined multi-channel music and effects signal. The audio system may determine a first set of directivity patterns for the multi-channel dialogue signal and a second set of directivity patterns for the combined multi-channel music and effects signal. 

“The first set of directivity patterns associated with channels of the dialogue signal may have higher directivity indexes than the second set of directivity patterns associated with corresponding channels of the music and effects signal. By associating dialogue components with a higher directivity than music and effects components, the system increases the intelligibility of dialogue for a piece of sound program content while allowing music and effects to retain conventional directivity having a typical ratio of direct-to-reverberant sound energy.”

The inventor is Apple’s Tomlinson M. Holman, an American film theorist, audio engineer, and inventor of film technologies, notably the Lucasfilm THX sound system. He developed the world's first 10.2 sound system. At Apple, Holman is in charge of “audio direction.”

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.