Surround Sound Radio

The Swedes have found a new way to kill time on those long, cold Scandinavian winter nights. On February 7, Swedish Radio (SR) announced that it had begun multichannel test transmissions from the Sirius 2 satellite, utilizing DTS's Coherent Acoustics compression/ decompression algorithm. The tests are intended to run until the end of April 2003.

SR says the 24-hour, "free-to-air" broadcasts are being transmitted across Europe using both the Nordic and European beams of the Nordic Satellite AB (NSAB) Sirius 2 satellite (5 degrees East), on 12,245.34 MHz Vertical and 12,379.60 MHz Horizontal, respectively. The test period also includes terrestrial transmissions over the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) system.

If radio exposure is critical in promoting new music, then the addition of 5.1 broadcasts should enhance the public's interest in multichannel music releases. The broadcasters say the programming includes contemporary, classical, and jazz music, along with comedy and drama. Multichannel remixes from the tape and record archives of SR are also being featured in addition to the commercially available surround sound titles.

In order to receive the multichannel signal, SR reports, listeners will require a satellite dish able to receive the Sirius 2 transmission and a DTS-enabled set-top box decoder, such as those already being manufactured by Kathrein-Werke. The set-top box's digital output is then connected to a DTS-capable A/V receiver, just as one would connect a DVD player. In conjunction with the project, Tandberg Television is supplying the first MPEG2 encoders that support the DTS algorithm.

According to SR, the organization decided to begin its surround sound broadcast trials after "an extensive bench-testing" period during which, the company says, it tested various surround sound formats. To gather public input on the competing formats, SR offered samples on its website and tracked the downloads and listener responses. "Over 525,000 downloads were recorded from the site from June 2001 until December 2002, with almost 40% of these downloaded outside Sweden. Despite the DTS-formatted files being nearly twice as large as the other formats, twice as many people opted for the DTS files," says SR.

SR claims that the 5.1-channel transmission will represent the highest sound quality ever publicly broadcast anywhere in the world, with a 1.5 Mbps DTS digital surround signal. SR's Bosse Ternstrom says, "We want to use this opportunity to test what we call High Definition Radio. The acceptance of 5.1 from the consumer market, along with great sound quality possibilities, now and in the near future, has encouraged us even more."