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The Eighth Annual Interactive Music Conference
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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

Executive summary

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. To address methods of defining, communicating and verifying audio quality issues to computer manufacturers developers and integrators.
  2. To create methods and messages for marketing Interactive and multimedia audio experiences to consumers with the goal of increasing the awareness of immersive audio products.

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?

- Anyone developing solutions that make use of audio.

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:

  • Entertainment
  • Gaming
  • Chat
  • Office Audio environment
  • Voice mail
  • Training
  • Teleconferencing
  • Corporate messaging

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.

Action Items

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:

  • Audio is important
  • Quality audio can be profitable
  • Take profit from doing it right
  • Focus on Surround
    • Learn what it is
    • Make it simple for end user to connect to other devices
      • Legible marking
      • consistent
    • Learn how to profit from surround
      • Extra margin
      • Up-sell
      • Accurate replacement cycles
      • Reduce support costs or increase
      • Base line 6 ch. Standards
  • Implementation Variances
  • Getting the message out
  • Individual manufacturers
  • Individual licensors
  • Use press to highlight less than desirable applications

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:

  • USB
  • 1394
  • Jacks: headphone, RCA, TRS
  • TCP/IP

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:

  • Automation: use it where possible, e.g. Jack sensing (what's plugged in there?)
  • CE UI Metaphor : use them where appropriate they're well known
  • Multichannel : use full capabilities of system and source audio at all times by default (play out of all channels all the time)
  • Sensible defaults
    • Startup in intuitive modes (not volume 0 or 100%)
    • Link defaults back to multichannel, automation, UI
    • Do no harm…
  • Quick and consistent access to controls at all times
  • Standard descriptive terms for audio features & specifications

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?
            Today - Headphones simply mute speakers when used

Multiple independent streams will create problems for audio redirection
            Applications need to be "audio aware"
            Now there are different devices to be selected from those devices

For audio aware applications there following must be addressed

  • Understand the differences between devices
  • Headphone - 2ch Or 6 ch etc.
  • Independent streams/independent controls

Motherboard audio problems:

  • Audio device jacks
    • What do they do?
    • How do you connect the right one to the right device?
    • Smart Jacks
      • Remove Consumer confusion
        • No longer map jacks to specific functions
  • Performance Measurements
    • What are the right elements to measure and how should this the measurements be taken?
    • There is a need to use real world conditions to ensure the measurements mean something
      • Correct loading -- measure mic inputs with mics not line ins
    • When the results are presented make sure the consumer understands what this means to them.
    • Where should the specs be used?
      • Should our goal be to get CNET.COM to use these specifications in their reviews?

Software application problems:

  • Stop using default .wav out (stop using mm.sys; Soundblaster 16, pre k-mixer
  • Missing .wav out filter (this would solve the UI problem)
  • Use KS for streaming capabilities
  • Publish SDK (provide instructions to replace mm.sys)
  • Most applications support direct sound

Codec problems:

  • Ensure number of DACs and ADC's balance with the number of jacks
  • Codec needs more resources in order to provide the best quality audio
  • Want full range gain control on the volume slide
  • Consistent voltage reference across all implementations to provide a common baseline.
  • Use appropriate microphones.
  • Reference from each codec in terms of how it must be used
  • Power - go to direct drive bipolar supplies

Recommendation of appropriate hardware solutions

  • 5.1, 24-bit/96Khz solutions provide a superior experience
  • Separate jacks
  • Labels & color coding consistent with CE industry
  • Software controlled hardware routing for signals, remove the complexity!
  • Reduce system noise especially power supply noise
  • Use the features that the DAC gives you, you paid for it!
  • Ensure board layout maintain the quality provided by the chipset.
  • Modify reference designs only with component mfg. support.
  • Isolate ground plane
  • Have a 3 Numbers box solution
    • Measurements don't always reflect perception: Pick the correct ones
    • Not all Quality #s may be currently relevant
    • Show Actual performance vs. promoted
  • Line level signal is a problem (Moving away from line level outputs)
  • Driving transducers directly

Recommendation of appropriate software solutions

  • Integrated Configuration tools
  • Wide range of applications
  • Consistency among applications
  • Consistent user interface is easy for the consumer to grasp
  • Provide audio to all channels Independent of source material
  • Persistence Self healing software
  • Meaningful error messages
  • Level settings/Volume controls: Make them intuitive
  • User interaction
  • "Self aware" monitoring (crash monitoring)
    • Bug reduction
    • Automated response
    • Tied to upgrades
    • Privacy issues
  • Don't require speaker locations make recommendations
  • Bundling of content for demonstration
  • Identifying user types

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.

By providing the consumers with a demo of the surround sound experience….

Vehicles for hitting targets

Work with Retailers
Collaboration with the Press
Direct marketing and contact with consumers


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.

Money Trail

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.

1. Experience sound as the artists intended
2. Makes existing content sound better
3. It is the future

Where are we now?

  • No unified advocacy organization in place
  • 5.1+ and virtualization widely available
  • Problems with implementation (especially PC)
    • Motherboards, UI, Conflicting applications, complexity, intimidating
  • Consumers & resellers not aware of the opportunities

Organizations that can help

  • AES
  • CEA
  • HDMI

Organization Action Items

  • Lobby participation of relevant organizations
  • Approach CEA, HDMI, AES to determine which organization will drive this process
  • Recruit evangelists
  • Creation of literature for consumers
  • Traveling demo bus/girls on the beach?
  • Press coverage
  • Regular meetings/conference calls to coordinate efforts
  • Regular contact with retailers
  • Sales training programs
  • Interaction with leading analysts
  • IDC, Gartner, Forrester


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:

a) The capability to experience the work done by audio professionals
b) The knowledge how to obtain the experience.

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.

section 8

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select a section:
1. Introduction  2. Speakers  3. Executive Summary  
4. IXMF Rollout Outline
5. What Is Interactive Audio? And What Should It Be?
6. Creating a Win-Win-Win-Win-Win-Win Scenario for DRM
7. nASCAP - Stock Market in Media Rights
8. Quality Audio Applications in the Interactive Entertainment Industry
9. Schedule & Sponsors