|The Eighth Annual Interactive
PROJECT BAR-B-Q 2003
Group Report: Quality Audio Applications in the Interactive Entertainment Industry
|Participants: A.K.A. "Otis"||Mark Tuffy; THX|
|Steve Pitzel; Intel||Tony Dal Molin; Audio Precision|
|Greg Rodehau; Dolby Labs Licensing||Devon Worrell; Intel|
|Rob Light; Audio Products International||Dan Bogard; SigmaTel Inc|
|Dennis Staats; Dolby Labs Licensing||Kurt Heiden; SRS Labs|
|Marco Alpert; Antares Audio Technologies||Facilitator: Van Webster; Webster Communications|
The Otis group worked to examine the obstacles and opportunities for developing improved interactive audio products, and subsequently how to convey the benefits of quality audio to consumers.
The report describes two main areas:
1. Recommendations to Manufacturers
A key element of the improvement of interactive audio is support from manufacturers in the PC industry so who is the audience for this message?
Quality Audio starts here, "We care about audio!"
Why is this important? The PC is a platform where not only can the consumer combine a variety of entertainment and business related activities, but it is the one where innovation and improvements in the audio space can be implemented quickly. Every user should have the ability to access quality audio no matter what the playback mechanism is. High quality audio unfortunately isn't a priority with manufacturers today.
There are new usage models which further blur the segregation between consumer and computer devices (e.g. Media center) which rely on providing an improved audio experience for the consumer. Rather than this being an isolated case we need to make this a priority and change the perception about product audio quality.
Currently consumers know the audio features they want when they experience them, e.g. having an in-store demo of surround. Therefore the consumer will value audio more when we as manufacturers do a better job of implementing it. We should be adding value for the consumer with quality improvements that are tangible for the consumer providing ease of use, future proofing, improving user interaction and matching the perceived value of the improvements to the consumer's expectations.
The message is: Good audio can be a market differentiator. It can be seen in the CE space how many companies differentiate their products by the quality of the audio experience they are presenting to the consumer.
Audio is as important as visual presentation (it is 50% of the experience) and consumers will demand it for these key applications:
There are some significant challenges to the improvement of audio quality. The increased complexity audio system in PC's has caused a great deal of consumer confusion (ganged volume controls anyone?). This has led to an increase in support costs and lowered consumer satisfaction with their products. The end user experiences long delays or poor technical support and often receive no response at all. This is not compounded by diminishing resources such as toll free support or the transition to completely automated support, which have increased end user frustration. One clear path to satisfy the contradictory needs of the manufacturer and end user would be to eliminate the need for tech support.
In summary, by creating demand with new compelling features and reducing support costs we can incentivise the manufacturers with the ability to become more profitable. The easiest way to do this is to focus on areas where the consumer gets the most noticeable improvement in the audio experience: Moving to surround sound.
The following is a set of recommendations that will be provided for use in the LRD (Microsoft - what will be done by Quality labs), PVG (Intel- used by the Innovation Alliance), UAA (Microsoft - Universal Audio Architecture)
The goal is to influence audio implementers by specifying and participating in industry guidelines and initiatives providing a meaningful blueprint for the manufacturer to produce quality audio. Devon Worrell will take these recommendations to the Innovation Alliance for PVG 2004 and Dan Bogard and Devon Worrell will approach Martin Puryer of Microsoft to enlist him for UAA and LRD changes.
Key Points to manufacturers:
The specifics of the recommendations
For manufacturers it is necessary to supply the components required (HW & SW configuration) to make systems easy to use.
For example just looking at the number of I/O interfaces on a PC shows the wealth of confusing options, let's try to simplify it.
On the PC you can have:
And by the way you can use each of these for multiple uses (is that network USB device or an Audio device?). How can a consumer be expected to obtain a quality audio experience when they are confronted with this diversity at the connection stage?
Below are listed some guiding principles for manufacturers:
In order to make a quality audio experience audio easier for the consumer the following items also need to be taken into account:
Redirection -- how you decide where your audio is going?
Multiple independent streams will create problems for audio redirection
For audio aware applications there following must be addressed
Motherboard audio problems:
Software application problems:
Recommendation of appropriate hardware solutions
Recommendation of appropriate software solutions
By incorporating these suggestion manufacturers will provide consumers with the tools and ability to obtain a consistently enhanced audio experience. In making the devices intuitive and easy to use manufacturers will reduces audio related support costs allowing them to further invest in increase the hardware quality.
The next question is how this message is conveyed to the public: That a good quality audio experience is available and is easy to use.
2. Audio Advocacy Objectives
The purpose of this section of the process is to explore the availability of quality audio applications in the interactive entertainment industry and to effectively communicate the benefits of the experience to the consumer. In doing so we aim to increase the demand for quality audio applications and subsequently drive industry revenues.
Who will benefit?
By creating demand on the consumer side and pushing new and better audio entertainment experiences, will generate new opportunities for incremental sales and the creation of new and better products.
We believe that the most effective way to communicate the quality audio experience is through the application of surround sound. The substantial difference between a mono or stereo experience and that of surround sound, is so significant that even the least discerning consumer cannot ignore it.
Vehicles for hitting targets
Work with Retailers
To increase awareness and, in turn demand as an entire industry we must promote the complete spectrum of surround sound platforms. This includes game consoles, car audio, home theater and PCs.
By increasing awareness, and driving demand from the consumer for quality audio products and content will ultimately result in market expansion for all of the players in the industry.
Where are we now?
Organizations that can help
Organization Action Items
It is important that an independent industry body is able to convey to the user the benefits of quality audio (in this case surround sound). Consumers when demonstrated the impact of surround understand what a difference this makes and it raises their expectations of audio. For all areas of interactive audio it is important that the end consumer has the:
The initial part of this report provides recommendations to manufacturers how to provide quality audio hardware. For the advocacy, while this group has companies involved in the promotion of quality audio, it is important that a consumer sees a group which does not have a particular product or agenda to promote. Therefore an association should be made with an existing group and utilize the resources each of the companies in the group can leverage.
select a section:
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