Dolby Laboratories

Dolby Laboratories
   The name Dolby is immediately recognizable as an established audio noise-reduction system and film sound platform since the mid-1970s. The company provided its patented soundtrack noise reduction technology on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971), BARRY LYNDON (1975), THE SHINING (1980), FULL METAL JACKET (1987); and the Dolby Digital 5. 1 stereo soundtrack for EYES WIDE SHUT (1999). Dolby Laboratories, founded by Dr. Ray Dolby, was set up as an independent corporation dedicated to reducing the noise associated with magnetic media. The original Dolby noise-reduction system was designed for use on magnetic recording tape, but in 1970 the company started work on improving film sound. In 1974 the company debuted its optical stereo soundtrack, Dolby Stereo, which would become the predominant film sound platform for the next two decades.
   In May 1965, Dolby Laboratories opened in London and began work on a noise reduction system for both audio and video systems. Magnetic recording media are prone to noise created during the recording process, most notably the addition of high-frequency tape “hiss. ” By the fall of 1965, Dolby Laboratories demonstrated the prototype of its Dolby A-type noise reduction system for the Decca Recording Company. This system resulted in an increase in dynamic range of 10 decibels while dramatically reducing the amount of added noise. This gave the recording system a much more “transparent” sound, making the recorded material after noise reduction virtually identical to the original signal.
   This proved to be invaluable in the professional field of multitrack recording, where it was quite common to rerecord and remix tracks, with each rerecording adding 3 decibels of noise. With the addition of noise reduction, multitrack recordings could have as low an amount of noise as first-generation live recordings. Decca was impressed with the Dolby Atype system, and by the end of 1966 the first LP made from Dolby-encoded master tapes was released. Over the next year, several other recording companies began to use Dolby-A type noise reduction, and Dolby Laboratories started to develop a simplified noise reduction system for consumer use, known as Dolby B-type, which caught on very quickly with its application to prerecorded cassette tapes. By the early 1970s, Dolby Laboratories was looking for new markets for its noise reduction devices and started experiments in both FM broadcasts and film sound.
   In 1970, three basic film sound formats existed: the standard monophonic optical soundtrack, known as Academy mono, and two magnetic formats, 70 mm 6-track stereo or 35 mm 4-track stereo. The Academy mono optical soundtrack had remained unchanged since its acoustical characteristics were set in 1938, accommodating only the limited frequency range of early theater speakers. Magnetic soundtracks were technically superior to optical, but they cost nearly 10 times as much per print to produce. Dolby Laboratories recognized the need for providing high-quality sound from the low-cost optical soundtrack, and in 1970 they experimented with the application of A-type noise reduction to a reel of the film Jane Eyre. Although the film was not released with the Dolby-ized portion, the results were extremely promising, and the experiment demonstrated that films would greatly benefit from the application of noise reduction. The first film to take advantage of Dolby’s innovation was STANLEY KUBRICK’s A Clockwork Orange. Dolby A-type noise reduction was used on all of the premixes and master recording, to prevent the buildup of noise during the mixing process. Although the film was released in standard, non-Dolby encoded, Academy mono, the soundtrack is extremely dynamic and clear for a film from 1971.
   Dolby Laboratories was still interested in providing better sound in theaters, and the company recognized that any attempt to improve cinema sound would have to take into account the entire sound chain from production and postproduction through distribution and exhibition. In early 1972, they introduced the Model 364 unit for decoding Dolby Atype monophonic optical soundtracks. The following year, the Dolby Model E2 Cinema Equalizer was introduced, to help theaters take advantage of the increased dynamic and frequency ranges of A-type encoded soundtracks. A few films were released in the encoded optical format from 1972 to 1974, all with sound quality that rivaled magnetic, but they were unable to offer the stereophonic presentation available in the magnetic formats.
   While Dolby Laboratories was experimenting with improvements to the monophonic optical soundtrack, Ron Uhlig, an engineer at Eastman Kodak, was exploring the possibility of using Dolby noise reduction on split-channel optical tracks. Uhlig’s experiments were initially applied to 16 mm film, but Dolby Laboratories saw a much greater use for the technology. Working in conjunction with Uhlig, Kodak, and the RCA Company, Dolby Laboratories designed a 35 mm stereo variable-area optical soundtrack known as Dolby Stereo. Dolby A-type noise reduction was used to restore the fidelity lost due to the reduced track width, and the new Dolby CP100 Cinema Processor decoded the two-channel soundtrack into three channels (left, right, and a derived center channel) to provide a high-quality, multichannel soundtrack from an optical source. And since the soundtrack had two variable-area components, it could be played back on an Academy monophonic sound system without the loss of any sonic information.
   Satisfying the many of the needs of the film industry, Dolby Stereo made its commercial debut in 1975 with the releases of Ken Russell’s Tommy and Lisztomania. Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was supposed to be the third film released in Dolby Stereo; however, the film was finally released in mono. According to the Hollywood Reporter: Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was almost made [in Dolby Stereo] but Dolby says Kubrick decided against it during the last week of post-production on the film, citing time restrictions as the reason. The film had been recorded in stereo sound, however, using Dolby equipment and even some technical assistance from the company on a kind of try-it-and-see basis. Since Kubrick was not obligated up front in any way, Dolby says his company lost $25,000 on the deal.
   The next film that featured Dolby Stereo, A Star Is Born, also included a surround channel that was encoded onto the two optical tracks and then decoded through a matrix upon playback. This allowed for a full four channels of sound to be encoded onto the two-track optical soundtrack, obviating the need for the more expensive fourchannel 35 mm magnetic format. Dolby recognized that the six-channel 70 mm magnetic format still provided the best sound quality available, and they improved its sound with the addition of A-type noise reduction and the rechanneling of the tracks to provide an enhanced low-frequency “baby boom” track starting with Star Wars.
   Dolby Stereo for 35 mm and 70 mm films met with a rapid acceptance in the late 1970s, and by the time the Dolby CP 200 Cinema Processor was introduced in 1980, more than 50 films had been recorded in Dolby Stereo. Despite the rising acceptance of Dolby systems and stereophonic presentation in the 1980s, it is interesting to note that both The Shining and Full Metal Jacket were released in mono. This was not due to any resistance to stereo on Kubrick’s part—standard Dolby contracts had been signed for each—but because the films spent so much time in postproduction, the stereo mixes were abandoned.
   Throughout the 1980s Dolby Laboratories continued to refine its cinema sound technologies and applied the principles of Dolby Stereo to home video releases with Dolby Surround sound. In 1986, Dolby Spectral Recording (Dolby SR) noise reduction debuted and was applied to film soundtracks with the releases of Innerspace and Robocop in July 1987. Over the last decade, Dolby Laboratories made 80 n Dolby Laboratories its move into digital film sound with the development of Dolby Digital sound, which remains the most widely utilized digital sound format today. In a sad postscript, the first Stanley Kubrick film to be released in a Dolby stereo format was also his last. Kubrick passed away before the soundtrack for Eyes Wide Shut could be mixed, leaving the film’s final stereo mix to be completed without him.
   ■ A Chronology of Dolby Laboratories: May 1965–May 1999 (San Francisco: Dolby Laboratories, Inc. , 1999);
   ■ A History of Dolby Laboratories (San Francisco: Dolby Laboratories, Inc. , 2000);
   ■ Allen, Ioan, “The Production of Wide-Range, Low-Distortion Optical Soundtracks Utilizing the Dolby Noise Reduction System,” SMPTE Journal 84, no. 9 (September 1975): 720–729;
   ■ ———,“The Dolby Sound System for Recording Star Wars,American Cinematographer 58, no. 7 (July 1977): 709, 748, 761;
   ■ Blake, Larry, “Mixing Dolby Stereo Film Sound,” Recording Engineer/ Producer 12, no. 1 (February 1981): 68–79;
   ■ Cels,Roger, “Who?—Dolby Laboratories,” Hollywood Reporter, February 25, 1976, p. 1;
   ■ Chion, Michel, “Quiet Revolution . . . And Rigid Stagnation,” translated by Ben Brewster in October 58 (fall 1991): 69–80;
   ■ “Dolby Encoded High-Fidelity Stereo Optical Sound Tracks,” American Cinematographer 56, no. 9 (September 1975): 1032–1033, 1088–1090;
   ■ Dolby, Ray M. ,“An Audio Noise Reduction System,” Journal of the Audio Engineering Society 15, no. 4 (October 1967): 383–388;
   ■ The Evolution of Dolby Film Sound (San Francisco: Dolby Laboratories, Inc. , 2000);
   ■ Robinson, David, “The CP200—A Comprehensive Cinema Theater Audio Processor,” SMPTE Journal 90, no. 9 (September 1981): 778–785;
   ■ Uhlig, Ronald E. , “Stereophonic Photographic Soundtracks,” SMPTE Journal 82, no. 4 (April 1973): 292–295;
   ■ ———, “Two- and Three-Channel Stereophonic Photographic Soundtracks for Theaters and Television,” SMPTE Journal 83, no. 9 (September 1974): 728–733.
   J. S. B.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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