Audio manufacturers started using the term “high fidelity” in the 1950s as a marketing technique to help grow consumer interest in home stereos. Thanks to the new buzz word and a concerted industry push, the consumer home audio world soon entered “The Golden Age of Hi-Fi” in the 1960s. It was during this boom when Dolby Laboratories was founded in Britain in 1965, before relocating to San Francisco in 1976. While the Dolby name is nearly synonymous with movie audio today, the company’s initial work for the first 10 years centered on licensing professional and consumer noise reduction systems for record labels known as Type-A and Type-B Dolby Noise Reduction. As history shows, however, their expertise in the audio world would soon expand to an entirely new realm of entertainment – the silver screen.
To learn about how Dolby changed the audio industry forever, keep reading on the next page.
Dolby’s early success with reducing background noise for the recording industry was quickly noticed by Hollywood, and licensing deals with movie studios followed. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was the first film to use Dolby noise reduction with all pre-mixes and masters. In 1975, Dolby released Dolby Stereo, which featured noise reduction, in addition to multiple audio channels, — center and surround matrixed into stereo left and right. Surround sound was born, and ironically the first film encoded into the format was A Star is Born in 1976 — a rock musical starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. The new technology found a much better content to show off on in 1977, with the release of two films by relatively unknown directors, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While both films were masterpieces in their own right, the enhanced audio experience provided by Dolby Stereo definitely aided both titles’ success at the box office.
Surround sound was born, and ironically the first film encoded into surround was A Star is Born in 1976 — a rock musical starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
Based on those home runs, Dolby Stereo catapulted onto the scene, and within 10 years upwards of 6,000 cinemas were equipped with the audio system. To avoid ignoring home entertainment, Dolby tweaked the format to play nice with consumer equipment and released Dolby Surround and Dolby Pro Logic — the domestic cinema match for Dolby Stereo. Their first digital coding system, Dolby AC-1, was also developed during this time, which paved the way for a new multichannel audio coding system, Dolby AC-3 — now known as Dolby Digital. This digital technology saw its first application alongside films, and quickly made its way into our homes where it’s currently found as the HDTV standard, as well as with DVD and Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, and many satellite TV receivers.
Originally based upon six discrete channels of sound — right-front, left-front, center, left-rear, right-rear and subwoofer — Dolby Digital 5.1 was the undisputed champ of the surround sound market. Outdoing themselves once again, Dolby introduced Dolby Surround 7.1 in 2010, the current cinema audio experience that delivers 7-channels of audio with the addition of side perimeter speaker channels — much to the chagrin of wire runners everywhere.
Perhaps the boldest move in Dolby’s recent years exists in line with every other tech company: development around mobile devices. First announced in 2010, Dolby Mobile features 5.1- and 7.1-channel surround sound in a mobile phone package.
To learn more, check out the history of Dolby on their website.
Written by Justin Gural. Additional contribution by Ben Bowers and Eric Yang