Auto Surround

A local body shop owner explained to me recently how the center brake light that began showing up on the rear deck of cars a few years ago killed business for him and his pals. Seems that all of a sudden, folks weren't rear-ending each other as often.

Then came the cell phone and business was booming again. But cell phone legislation, banning driver use in moving vehicles, threatens to put an end to the good times.

On the horizon, however, are multichannel audio systems, along with an array of disorienting surround-sound music discs. At the recent AES convention, I briefly sat through an in-car demo, where a screen mounted next to the driver was used to negotiate the various menus needed to properly play a DVD-Audio disc. Luckily the vehicle was parked on the convention floor as we scrolled and clicked through the choices.

The latest safety hazard in a fast-moving car? Or is this just over-reactive hand-wringing? The body shop owner says that he and his peers are keeping a watchful eye, "especially when a video display is added in the front console to run the thing."

Nonetheless, DTS announced last week that several new 2005 US car models will offer audio systems sporting DTS 5.1-channel surround sound capability. According to the company, the 2005 Acura RL will include a DVD-Audio system with DTS multichannel sound as a standard feature, and Land Rover's 2005 Range Rover and the 2005 Cadillac STS will each offer optional DTS-equipped surround audio systems.

According to DTS, the Acura will come standard-equipped with a DVD-Audio system, including DTS capability, and the Range Rover will have a Harman/Kardon rear-seat entertainment system, which can play discrete DTS multichannel music as well as DTS-encoded DVD-V content, offered as an option. The Cadillac will also feature an optional surround system, including a six-disc CD/DVD changer with a discrete 5.1-channel DTS decoder.

DTS's Brian Towne suggests, "The car is an ideal environment to experience the enveloping nature of surround sound. For many years, a typical automobile has had four or more speakers, but has only taken advantage of stereo sound. The automotive industry recognizes how surround sound enhances the entertainment experience in the car, and we will see more and more manufacturers following Acura, Cadillac, and Land Rover's lead in introducing entertainment systems featuring DTS and surround sound into their new car models."