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issue: May 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Engineering Televisions
A Sound Investment


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by Jill Russell, Associate Editor

A digital sound recording feature recently entered the consumer electronics arena when Mitsubishi Digital Electronic America Inc. introduced its new high-definition television with a built-in digital video recorder.

With Dolby Laboratories Inc.'s Dolby Digital system, Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, Inc. says virtually any A/V receiver can be connected to the DVD player and provide Dolby Digital surround sound in a single-package solution.

Following the industry’s transition away from an analog format to a digital format, Mitsubishi says it aimed to provide an integrated high-definition television (HDTV) that allowed users to record current analog programming, in addition to high-definition programming, on a built-in hard drive device. However, before the company could start designing its new product, it needed to find a conversion system that was able to digitize analog content in a consumer-friendly format.

According to Marty Zanfino, director of Product Development for Mitsubishi, the company was already familiar with a generic conversion system but decided to look at other options to increase the efficiency of the conversion process and to improve overall product function.

“For video, there is one standard [conversion system] from MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) that we use. Unfortunately, the standard typical audio system that MPEG uses is not the one that audio industry tends to use,” Mr. Zanfino explains. “The A/V receivers with digital inputs that work with DVD players and CD players tend not to have the circuit that can decode an MPEG audio stream. It’s just not a common format on the consumer side of things. So, we needed another system.”

After weighing two options to integrate digital sound into its digital video recorders, Mitsubishi decided to use a more costly, but more efficient sound conversion system. The first system Mitsubishi considered was pulse-code modulation (PCM) linear. This system, according to Mr. Zanfino, is an older and less efficient system, which was developed in the late 1970s. However, the second system—Dolby Laboratories, Inc.’s (San Francisco, CA, U.S.) Dolby Digital—was the winning solution for the company.

Mitsubishi says that with the Dolby system, any A/V receiver can be connected to the DVD player and provide Dolby Digital surround sound. Added benefits include the fact that the conversion system contains the type of decoder Mitsubishi was seeking and is able to provide it a single-package solution, without the need of an outside device or set-top box.

The ability to provide digital recording in conjunction with digital audio is a demand more consumers—and thus, more manufacturers—are making, according to Dolby’s director of consumer marketing, Ron Vitale. “One of the key trends we see in the CE industry is the increasing consumer demand for a high-quality audio entertainment experience,” Mr. Vitale tells APPLIANCE. “We’re seeing audio technology advancements in the home theater, video gaming, PC, and automotive markets. Dolby does not compromise accompanying video resolution and offers higher quality audio than competing formats such as MPEG audio.”

Mitsubishi says integrating the Dolby conversion system into its HDTV/DVR unit was straightforward, as Mitsubishi was using a familiar conversion implementation. Since Dolby licenses its technology, the company also has reference designs, which Mitsubishi used. “Dolby does a good job with reference designs and explaining how the system works, and if you have any problems, they have applications people that can work with you,” Mr. Zanfino says. Because of this, Mitsubishi says implementing the new system was a smooth process, without any major challenges.

Of course, there were specifications that were tailored to fit the end design, but according to Mr. Zanfino, Dolby’s individual standards helped eliminate potential problems. “Dolby has standards that you have to meet so that you don’t get a bad implementation of the system. Obviously, that’s part of their own quality control system. But we didn’t have a particular problem with that. It was kind of a routine thing,” he recalls.

In the end, Mitsubishi introduced a digital-cable-ready HDTV set with a built-in hard disk drive with Dolby Digital Recording. The WD-62825 is a 62-in digital light projection (DLP™) HDTV display featuring a 120-GB hard drive DVR. Mitsubishi says the unit can record up to 12 hr of high-definition programming or more than 60 hr of standard programming.

Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America Inc. used a digital to analog conversion system for its high definition TV with built-in digital video recorders, which can record both digital and analog programming with surround sound.

Mr. Zanfino says the recording features include instant replay and pause functions, allowing consumers to start recording a program at the push of a button and resume watching where they left off, even while the unit is still recording. The instant replay option allows you to “rewind” a minute or two of a program and then “fast forward” back to live TV.

In addition, because of Dolby’s conversion system, the unit can virtually record any input signal, whether it be an antenna, VCR, or a satellite receiver. “Most people don’t like a whole collection of boxes connected to the TV with several different remotes,” Mr. Zanfino says. “The customer can now have it pretty easy. Up until now, they have had to have an outside box to do that and this TV allows you to do everything [with one unit].

Although Mitsubishi says Dolby’s conversion system was more costly than other possible options, it was well worth the investment. “Some companies really try to get a huge premium for their licensing fees, and Dolby is very practical and reasonable with their pricing,” Mr. Zanfino says. “It probably cost us a little bit more, but we chose to go with Dolby because it was the more modern and efficient of the two options. They were an obvious choice for us.”

 

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