"High-Def" Audio from Dolby/Intel

Audiophiles may bemoan the convergence of computers and high-fidelity equipment, but it's a trend apparently as unstoppable as the earth's progression around the sun.

Every once in a while, however, an announcement appears to encourage hope that the computer audio experience will eventually transcend its typical limitations. Case in point: a recent press release from Dolby Labs and Intel Corporation about a cooperative effort to promote "Intel High Definition Audio," an improved PC audio experience based on Dolby surround-sound technologies.

The partners are launching a new "integrated audio codec" licensing program designed to enable software and hardware designers "to develop solutions that work with Intel HD Audio, Intel's next-generation audio architecture formerly code-named 'Azalia.'" The technology could give PC users many of the same benefits they would experience with home-theater systems, according to the announcement, including "Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Digital Live, and Dolby Pro Logic IIx."

Although it does not specify the level of resolution offered by Intel HD Audio, the announcement does assert that "consumers will have the ability to enjoy a richer and more engaging experience from any audio source in virtually any listening mode," including full surround sound without the need for a 5.1-channel speaker array.

The introduction of yet another reputedly high-resolution audio format could be seen as an unwanted intrusion into a market still reluctant to fully embrace SACD or DVD-Audio, or it could be seen as an inevitable expansion of the PC's abilities. It's worth noting that multiple formats of high-def video haven't hindered its acceptance. All that's needed for any format to succeed are the tools to decode it. "The Dolby PC Entertainment Experience Initiative will provide consumers with the freedom to enjoy their entertainment the way they want to," said Steve Vernon, Dolby vice president of licensing technology. "Whether you want to listen through two speakers, a multichannel home theater set-up, or headphones, Dolby technologies are now accessible seamlessly through your PC."

Dolby and Intel will promote a "Dolby PC Logo Program" to help consumers select PCs with the Dolby audio technologies that best meet their entertainment needs, the partners announced at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) February 17.