Single-Source Surround Sound?

Every Consumer Electronics Show features unusual prototypes from engineers throughout the world. Some are laboratory curiosities that never develop into viable products, but others have great potential.

It's not clear where the Digital Sound Projector from UK technology startup 1Limited ultimately will fall in the spectrum of commercial possibilities, but its concept certainly looks intriguing: surround sound from a single speaker. According to announcements made in early December, the projector is capable of producing believable surround effects without the necessity of a traditional loudspeaker array. Its developers claim that it is the first device to produce surround sound from a single source.

The Projector is an integrated processor/amplifier whose front panel is festooned with 254 miniature drivers that emit "beams of sound" that bounce off ceilings and walls, eventually reaching the ears of listeners. The processor is said to allocate separate signals to each of the drivers, whose outputs acoustically modulate the outputs of the other drivers in order to create spatial effects for listeners anywhere in the room. "The DSP is a slim unit that, by itself, can generate full, physical five- or six-channel surround sound for a group of listeners. It can control and steer independently up to six channels of sound, completely eliminating the need for satellite speakers and cabling normally associated with conventional surround sound systems," reads a description on the company's website.

1Limited claims the effects can be tailored for rooms of any size or shape via an infrared remote control. "Once the single unit is in place, the sound projector can be 'tuned' to the acoustic conditions of your room using no more than a remote control," states pre-release publicity. "Move the layout of your room, or just change where you want to sit, and the system can be easily adjusted." The sound projector to be demonstrated in Las Vegas will be compatible with both five-channel and six-channel surround decoders, including Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 systems, and Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES 6.1 systems. The Digital Sound Projector accepts both digital and analog inputs. Its published specifications include a sensitivity of 110dB (1W/1m) and a frequency response of 80Hz–20kHz (±3dB). Yes, you'll still need a subwoofer.

1Limited was founded by physicist Anthony Hooley, formerly an IBM research fellow at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge. Hooley is the inventor of the ceramic actuator, a device with no moving parts that expands or contracts in response to applied current. The ceramic actuator is said to have audio applications, although it is not used in the Digital Sound Projector. Over six years of research and development have gone into the projector, according to 1Limited, which hopes to attract licensees for its technology at the upcoming CES. Demonstrations will be on a by-invitation basis.