Home cinema systems are on the threshold of a revolution with the introduction of large-scale, ultra-high resolution direct view displays that offer an alternative to traditional projection systems. The new generation of direct view displays offer far greater visual impact with brightness, contrast levels and dynamic range that simply cannot be achieved with projection systems. However, because the left-center-right screen channel loudspeakers cannot be placed behind the screen, direct view displays present a challenge for maintaining sound localization that matches the precise position of the corresponding visual image.
A new solution for this problem, Ultra Reflex Screen Channel Sound Solution for Direct View Displays, has been developed by Meyer Sound. Based in Berkeley, California, Meyer Sound has more than four decades of leadership in professional sound systems and more recently has expanded into custom-tailored systems for the high-end home cinema market. Daniel Rivera, Meyer Sound’s US sales manager, West, explains why Ultra Reflex holds the key to providing uncompromising audio for home theater systems upgrading to new direct view displays.
With direct view, you obviously can’t put your left-center-right speakers behind the image. Why not just put speakers over or around the display screen?
Daniel Rivera: That approach is fraught with difficulties with larger screen sizes. The horizontal placement can work okay from a limited “sweet spot” in the middle of the room, but that phantom center channel will shift away at viewing angles off center. And if the center speaker is at a steep angle over a large screen, it can sound like the overhead “voice of God”, something that can be very distracting.
How does Ultra Reflex deal with this problem?
DR: With Ultra Reflex, each of the three screen channels is split into high-frequency and low-mid frequency components. The higher frequencies, which are much more directional and are used by our ears to localize sounds, are aimed at the screen from overhead speakers with the focused sound reflected back into the seating area. The listener localizes the sound image to that part of the screen. At the same time, the low-mid component is reproduced by loudspeakers placed directly below the screen.
This seems simple enough. How is Ultra Reflex better than other similar solutions?
DR: The devil is in the details. It is extremely difficult to keep the two signal components working together at all frequencies and all output levels. Maintaining the full cinematic experience demands full-bandwidth reproduction and a very wide dynamic range. This is extremely difficult when dealing with both direct and reflected audio sources.
With Ultra Reflex, the foundation is Meyer Sound’s nearly three decades of leadership in self-powered professional loudspeaker systems. The six loudspeakers used for the screen channels exhibit extraordinary phase and amplitude linearity to begin with. But maintaining that linearity and headroom across the reflective and direct components is the tricky part. With Ultra Reflex, a remarkable level of coherence is maintained using proprietary signal processing in Meyer Sound’s GALAXY Network Platform.
From what you’ve just said, it sounds like both design and calibration of Ultra Reflex requires considerable expertise.
Yes, this is definitely the case. Ultra Reflex is not a one-size-fits-all solution in a box. Getting all the design parameters exactly right is critical, including selection of loudspeakers, location, and angle of loudspeakers relative to the display surface, and certainly making sure all your DSP filters are calibrated with exacting precision. That’s one reason Meyer Sound is directly involved throughout the process, and we expect that to continue as Ultra Reflex expands into the home market.
How does the precise localization of Ultra Reflex enhance the experience of ultra-high definition direct view cinema?
DR: It’s interesting, because I suppose the best thing about it is that you really don’t notice it. It sounds like you are listening to very high-quality loudspeakers coming from behind the screen. There’s nothing distracting, nothing missing. But at the same time, you are blown away by the quality of the visual image.
Ultra-Reflex was first installed in a cutting-edge post-production studio in Los Angeles. Can you briefly describe how Ultra-Reflex was implemented at this facility?
DR: The Ultra Reflex LCR system deploys three ULTRA-X42 loudspeakers and three Ultra Reflex LF-15 compact cinema loudspeakers for the screen channels. Five X-400C cinema subwoofers handle the lower frequencies, with two VLFC very low frequency control elements providing visceral bass below the hearing threshold. The room is set up for Dolby Atmos selectable for theatrical or 9.1.6 home playback modes. The complement of surround and overhead loudspeakers comprises 28 HMS Series loudspeakers bolstered by four USW-210P subwoofers for surround bass management.
How does this relate to a home cinema environment?
DR: It’s very similar. The size of the room, room acoustics, and seating capacity would be about the same as a mid-size or larger home theater. The only difference is the audio mixing and video editing gear in the middle, but the listening experience would be the same.
Visually, in a home cinema environment, the ceiling-mounted speakers may be concealed by a stretch fabric system.
How has Ultra Reflex been received by production professionals?
DR: Very well, indeed, as this first installation has been followed by two more. The room is used by many different content creators, including some ‘golden ear’ sound supervisors and re-recording engineers. They have been highly complementary of the system’s power and transparency, commenting favorably on the natural warmth and clarity of the sound as well as the precise localization. One re-recording engineer, who was brought in without being told about the technology, was astonished to learn he was listening to sound reflected from the screen, saying it sounded just like the mixes he had done in his own studio. With this kind of response from critical professionals, I expect Ultra Reflex will be a revelation for discerning home cinema owners.
In the final analysis, why is Ultra Reflex important to consumers aiming for the ultimate home cinema experience?
DR: With the exploding popularity of streaming content, top-tier Hollywood production facilities are committed to offering the best content quality for home viewing. They are going all out to stay on the cutting edge of technology. Program producers need to know how their content will be experienced in the years to come, to stay at least one step ahead of the consumer market. For home cinema owners who want the ultimate visual experience with direct view, Ultra Reflex ensures they will have audio to match.
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