It may come as no surprise, but many of the significant current trends in audio are related to a very familiar video product - the television. This was one of the key takeaways from the Texas Instruments Developer Conference held this week in Dallas. Here are a few of my notes:
Of course one of the key trends in consumer electronics is the move to ever slimmer form factors for flat-panel TVs, creating challenges for all aspects of their design, and especially the audio. Speaker and enclosure limitations are making it more difficult to get good sound from these new products, yet consumers are continuing to expect better sound quality (and more features). As a result, there's a great deal of focus on using digital signal processing to compensate for some of these limitations, as well as to add expected feaures like virtual surround and DRC.
In the same vein, space and cost are similarly critical. Signal processing is being used in some cases to help eliminate additional circuitry and cost. Other solutions, like the recently announced TAS5706 20-W closed-loop Class-D amplifier and the DRV601 audio line driver, are also designed to be able to operate directly off existing supplies while providing superior performance.
The TAS5706, for example, can operate directly from an LCD TV's backlight power supply. TI has produced a short video (5:50) describing the product:
One especially interesting trend in the TV/Home Theater space may be the emerging popularity of sound bars (or speaker bars), as an alternative - or even a complement - to full 5.1 surround-sound speaker set ups. A single sound bar in front of the listener can provide - through physical design and/or signal processing - a virtual surround experience that can approach the "real thing." (Some might argue it's even more natural sounding than actual surround.)
SRS Labs demonstrated their new virtual surround technology at the conference exhibit hall using an inexpensive sound bar they built for the purpose, to demonstrate that the hardware doesn't need to be expensive to get good or better virtual surround results than some more expensive sound bar solutions currently on the market.
An example of one of the many interesting technical sessions at the conference was a description and demonstration of Dolby Volume technology. This technology is designed to maintain TV system playback volume at the same preferred level across all sources, while at the same time compensating for the ear's changing sensitivity as the volume is turned up or down.
The demo appeared to support the company's claim of the technology's ability to "quickly and properly correct level differences without creating compression artifacts or undesirable pumping in the audio signal." See/hear a demo of Dolby Volume (it takes a minute to load).