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CES: Toshiba Taps Dolby Volume For HD Sets

CES '09: Complete Coverage from Broadcasting & Cable

Toshiba announced at CES that it will be the first TV set manufacturer to employ “Dolby Volume,” a technology from Dolby Laboratories aimed at solving loudness problems when switching from one DTV channel to another.

Toshiba will roll out Dolby Volume in its new high-end Regza LCD TVs, which also include the manufacturer’s Resolution Plus video upconversion technology and a USB slot for viewing digital media like photos or downloaded movies on the TV screen. Toshiba VP of marketing Scott Ramirez wouldn’t disclose how much cost licensing the Dolby Volume technology would add to Regza sets, but said the investment in Dolby Volume makes sense.

“It’s a worthwhile expense that solves a real-world problem, as opposed to putting $500 of speakers in there that people won’t use,” said Ramirez. “This is a way to make their everyday life better.”

Dolby first unveiled Dolby Volume at CES two years ago as a way to eliminate loudness, the volume spikes that occur on a TV set during a commercial break or when switching channels. Loudness has plagued television for years and has become even more of an issue with DTV broadcasts that use powerful 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio. Dolby has already developed several professional devices aimed at solving the loudness problem, which it markets to television stations, programming networks and cable operators.

Dolby Volume manages loudness issues in TV programming, whether analog or digital broadcasts, with audio-normalization software in the television set itself. Dolby Volume ensures that a consistent volume level is delivered to the TV speakers or external home-theater audio system, and normalizes volume when video inputs on a television set are switched, such as from a digital cable box to a DVD player.

“This really works, and I think it’s going to save my marriage,” joked Ramirez.

Like other manufacturers such as Sharp and LG, Toshiba is also supporting the delivery of Internet content to the TV set, and announced at CES that it is working with Intel, Microsoft and Yahoo to deliver Yahoo’s content “widgets” to its Regza sets to support interactive content as well as streaming video, movie downloads and music.

“It’s one of the most simple ways to access content in the home directly from the Internet,” claimed Toshiba SVP Yoshi Uchiyama.

Toshiba also is demonstrating here in Las Vegas new high-end “cell TVs” that use Toshiba’s high-performance “cell” processor chip, which is already employed in Sony’s Playstation game consoles. Toshiba’s gambit is to separate the cell processor from the LCD panel in a separate set-top box that will be loaded with reams of storage and serve as an HD home server. According to Ramirez, the processing power of the cell chip, which is three times faster than the processors in today’s Regza TVs, can support display resolutions of up to 4k by 2k and could also receive and decode six simultaneous HD streams. At CES, Toshiba is demonstrating a 56-inch, 4k by 2k pixel panel to display images which the cell processor is upconverting from 1920x1080p resolution to 3840x2160 resolution.

Ramirez said the idea behind the cell is to load the set-top with massive storage, allowing a viewer to timeshift and store six channels of HD programming over a period as long as a week. Technical details of the cell platform were vague, but Ramirez said the combined set-top and panel would probably sell in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, and could come out in Japan this year, and perhaps even in the US before 2010.

“The box is the future of HDTV and will be marketed in 2009,” said Ramirez.