Is the Best Seat in the House Now in the Garage?

Audiophiles are just warming up to the debate on how (or why) they should set up multi-channel audio in the home (see previous story). But perhaps the listening room will ultimately take a back seat to a more obvious choice for a multi-channel environment: the automobile. Several multi-channel products are being announced for the autosound market, including a new Fujitsu DVD player with 5.1 audio.

Announced by Fujitsu Ten's Eclipse car stereo division last week, the new product is called the DVD Source Unit 55090, and—when combined with the Digital Decoder 39011—it will provide 5.1 surround sound. The company says that "with the advent of DVD, a new level of sonic and visual performance is available to the car entertainment purist. No longer limited to two stereo channels, the 5.1 channel design is ideal for the mobile environment."

One problem with a small listening environment like a car is that there is no traditional "sweet spot." With seats close to every corner of the enclosure, each listener gets a different balance from the various channels and speakers. In what Eclipse is calling a first for in-car audio, the company's 5.1-channel sound/visual entertainment system uses digital signal processing to take advantage of the psychoacoustic phenomenon known as the "Haas effect," where two sounds coming from different directions but arriving within milliseconds of one another are heard as a single sound coming from the direction of the first one heard.

According to Eclipse, by designing new DSP circuitry, they were able to incorporate complex psychoacoustic data into the in-car audio system, which can manipulate the timing of the audio signal sent to the speakers. The company claims that the result is "an incredibly lifelike spaciousness and depth of sound imaging for each listener in the vehicle." Eclipse says the DVD 5.1-channel car audio system also combines front and rear speakers with a front center-channel and a rear-mounted subwoofer.

Eclipse says the in-dash DVD player can also operate hands-free by connecting it to the Eclipse Commander, the company's voice-controlled "vehicle integration system" that offers hands-free operation for all major functions, including a GPS navigation system. All of this doesn't come cheap, however: the 55090 DVD Source Unit retails for $1599.99 and the price for the 39011 Dolby Digital Decoder is $799.99.