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Netflix movies sound better thanks to Dolby Digital Plus

Technology to make surround sound more common on streamed movies

US company Netflix launched its streaming video service in the UK this week, and Amazon-owned Lovefilm immediately countered with its own online-only service. It seems that the UK is catching up with the US when it comes to streaming movies over the internet. However, in one regard Netflix may have the upper hand – audio quality – with much of its movie catalogue supporting Dolby Digital Plus.


Dolby Digital Plus is a relatively new standard and one that hasn’t been seen on British shores before. At present the vast majority of streamed content online, including all of Lovefilm’s offerings, are done in stereo – with some having suround information matrix-encoded into that soundtrack (with technologies like Dolby Pro Logic can extract).


Mark Price from Dolby explained how Netflix has the audio edge

Dolby Digital Plus allows for the more efficient streaming of discrete multi-channel surround sound, so you basically get Dolby Digital quality (or better) with your streaming movie. That’s a big jump in quality and provides audio far more like that youre used from a DVD.

The standard isn’t necessarily compatible with older hardware, so the hardware you receive it on will need to decode it. This can be done in software on either your PC or PlayStation 3, in the case of Netflix. The device would then output the audio as 5.1 PCM to your AV receiver.

It’s also the standard that Dolby is pushing for use on mobile phone handsets. That way, when you play a movie out of your handsets Micro HDMI port, you’ll get surround sound audio too. Ideally the handset will need the right hardware to decode the Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack, and Dolby is working with chipset manufacturers to achieve this.


The Dolby Digital Plus demos on Dolby’s stand sounded impressive

Mark Price, PR Manager at Dolby Laboratories, said that 2 or 3 more services were lined up for the UK using the service. Another company to have signed up is is Acetrax, whose movie catalogue is available through Samsung TVs.


The other story to come out of Dolby was the increasing use of true 7.1 surround sound mixes in movies and other content. The vast majority of 7.1 mixes on Blu-ray to date have been rejigged from 5.1 cinema soundtracks, rather than the actual movies being mastered in this format.

That’s starting to hange now, with around 50 movies now having being mastered in 7.1 surround, and we should see more Blu-ray discs with these soundtracks in the future – using the Dolby True HD codec no doubt.

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