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Life & Legacy: Ray Dolby

The founder of Dolby Laboratories Inc. Dr. Ray Dolby, passed away on Thursday 12 September. His contribution to the home theatre, specifically to noise reduction and surround sound will be his legacy for years to come.

Born in Portland, Oregon in 1933, Dolby began working on various audio and instrumentation projects at Ampex Corporation between 1949 and 1952. Between 1952 and 1957 at Ampex, he was responsible for the development of the electronic aspects of the Ampex videotape recording system.

Dolby received a BS degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1957. After receiving a Marshall Scholarship and joining part of the National Science Foundation graduate fellowship, Dolby decided to leave Ampex to pursue further studies at Cambridge University. He received at PhD degree in physics in 1961 and was elected a Research Fellow of Pembroke College.

After a two-year appointment as a United Nations advisor in India beginning in 1963, Dolby then returned to England in 1965 to establish Dolby Laboratories in London. That same year, he introduced A-type noise-reduction for professional and analogue tape recorders and it quickly became the worldwide standard. Following on from that, three years later, Dolby introduced Type B consumer noise reduction which was again another success for the founder. He relocated to San Francisco in 1976 to expand his company – more offices, laboratories and manufacturing facilities. In the previous year, he had introduced the Dolby Stereo, allowing multichannel sound for a much broader range of movie theatres. Throughout the 1980s, Dolby made some significant advancements that are still around today.

In 1984, he began licensing his surround sound for consumer use, which initially kick started the idea of the home cinema. An often forgotten contribution of Dolby, is the 1986 introduction to Dolby SR which was only ever deployed in premium venues, to deliver what is so effortlessly referred to as ‘surround sound’ these days. The following year Dolby Pro Logic was introduced and marked as the true beginning of the home theatre as we know it today.

Dolby Digital was to become the audio standard on DVD from the mid nineties, and is now a commonplace on digital TV broadcasts. The successor to DD 5.1, Dolby TrueHD, was introduced in 2005. However this ultra high-quality lossless audio format has failed to replicate the ubiquity of Dolby Digital.

Dolby Atmos is the latest multichannel cinema-surround sound solution, to be inspired by the pioneering work of Ray Dolby. Unlike its predecessors, Dolby Atmos is an object, rather than channel-based sound system. This takes sonic immersion to an entirely new level. Using a process called adaptive rendering, audio engineers are able to place a sound effect anywhere spatially within an auditorium, with a precision that’s simply impossible with conventional steering technologies.

Dr. Dolby holds more than 50 United States patents and has written papers on video tape recording, long wavelength X-ray analysis and noise reduction. His Honors and Awards are Audio Engineering Society as a Fellow and Past President with Silver Medal and Gold Medal, British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society as a Fellow with Science and Technology Award, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers as a Fellow with Samuel L. Warner Memorial Award, Alexander M. Poniatoff Gold Medal, Progress Medal and Honorary Member, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with Science and Engineering Award and Oscar Award, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with Emmy Award as well National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with Grammy Award and finally, United States with National Medal of Technology and United Kingdom with Honorary O.B.E.

The next time you experience surround-sound in your home cinema, or if you find yourself in awe of the clarity of the music you’re listening to, take a second to remember Dr. Ray Dolby. The wide-scale adaption of his technology changed the way almost everyone listens to music and movies. That is his true legacy.

Written by Maggie Sapet

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