The National Association of Theatre Owners, a non-profit entity, has been secretly meeting with a select set of competitive entities associated with cinema sound to favor the DTS MDA object-based audio format over Dolby Atmos. NATO’s new technology consultant, Jerry Pierce, last held a secret meeting the evening of September 24 at the Amarano Hotel in Burbank. A Dolby employee happened to be staying at the hotel, came upon the meeting, and was asked to leave.
While the existence of the DTS/NATO meetings are widely gossiped, the date, time, and location of the meetings are communicated to only a few individuals. One person who attended a few of these meetings discussed them with me, but only on condition that I not disclose the person’s name, due to the requirement of secrecy. I’ve asked to participate in the meetings, but with no reply. This isn’t because no one knows who I am. Further, DTS was a client during its cinema days, and I personally know the top executive that oversees MDA development. But my emails to him regarding these meetings have silently gone unanswered.
It only gets more bizarre. The street is buzzing with statements reportedly made by NATO’s CEO John Fithian and its new technology consultant, Jerry Pierce, expressing the opinion that Dolby has not done enough to open up its Atmos audio format. In turn, NATO is lending unwavering support for DTS MDA. NATO recently placed its name on a project proposal originated by DTS in SMPTE for the standardization of object-based sound. But the only purpose served by the DTS/NATO/Barco/Auro proposal was publicity, as Dolby had already proposed a standardization project within SMPTE for the distribution of object-based sound, which will open the door to competition. Duplicate project proposals in SMPTE will not lead to duplicate standards work. (While Barco and Auro also placed their names on the DTS project proposal, it’s not clear that they did so for the right reasons, as discussed in DCI Adds Object-Based Sound.)
There’s concern that immersive audio will be laden with intellectual property. In fact, upon taking a deeper look (see Not All Rendering Engines Are Created Equal), intellectual property is bound to be present in high performing and innovative object-based sound systems.
When it comes to investment in cinema innovations, Dolby and Auro have led the way. DTS, on the other hand, hasn’t spent a dime on cinema. In fact, its board of directors won’t allow it to. Which only makes it all the more odd that NATO would choose to partner with DTS.
Industry veterans know that a lot of companies have appeared and disappeared in cinema sound, including DTS, while Dolby is the only company with nearly 40 years of strong presence in cinema. It would make more sense for NATO to engage in open meetings that are inclusive of Dolby, where matters of innovation and fair access to technology can be explored, rather than engaging in closed, secret meetings with DTS.