Q & A: Mobile Is Music to SRS Labs Exec’s Ears

Tue, 04/12/2011 - 10:53am
Andrew Berg

As smartphone functionality evolves, mobile devices increasingly are seen as supplements to home entertainment systems. While HD video capture/output is quickly becoming standard on high-end devices, great sound is also a draw for consumers. Enter companies like SRS Labs, which until recently has been primarily known for its audio enhancement software in flat panel televisions and home entertainment systems (you might recognize their “WOW” setting in your TV’s audio menu). SRS Labs has moved to the mobile in a big way, announcing partnerships with major OEMs in the wireless industry. Bob Lyle, managing director of global business development for SRS Labs, discussed why his company believes mobile is the next big market for premium sound enhancement software. 

Wireless Week: Can you give a little background on what SRS Labs does on the mobile front?

Bob Lyle: SRS is a world leader in audio post-processing software, across four core markets – TV, PC, mobile and automotive. We license our technology on approximately 150 million consumer products per year, and we have software on about 1 billion products in the market today.

Approximately 70 percent of our business today comes from the TV segment, but the fastest growing market for us right now is mobile, things like smartphones, tablets and slates. We have tremendous opportunity, especially when you consider that the smartphone market is growing faster than the flat panel TV and PC markets combined. In mobile, our audio enhancement software is on a variety of smartphones and tablets from Samsung, HTC, NEC and Huawei.

WW: How might developers benefit from your technology?

Lyle: Developers like to write an application once and have it run across multiple devices and operating systems. For audio software, we’ve addressed this through our work with the Khronos Group, a nonprofit consortium focused on the creation of royalty-free, open standards in video, audio and computer graphics. Recently, Khronos Group introduced its OpenSL ES (Open Sound Library for Embedded Systems) 1.1 standard, which defines audio profiles for phone, music and games. This is important, because leading OEMs are expected to adopt these standards for their next-generation mobile devices. Most notably, Google announced last May that the Android operating system, commencing with Gingerbread, will move to supporting the OpenSL ES standard. 

SRS is the only company to have complete coverage of the OpenSL ES 1.1 API and we can sample it to device OEMs and mobile silicon manufacturers now. This means application and game developers can draw on these APIs for 3D audio positioning and write their app or program once and it will work across multiple devices from various mobile device OEMs.

WW: Can you tell me about why you think surround sound on a mobile device is important to consumers these days?

Lyle: Over the last few years, the market has finally become ready for content streaming. More smartphones and tablets have been introduced with HD video capabilities, including HD video playback and HD recording. While both feature phones and smartphones today have incredible display capabilities, the industry has been slower to integrate high definition audio into these devices, but that’s changing. As HD video becomes standard, more and more consumers will demand – and expect – to have audio surround sound and enhanced audio effects in any mobile device they use.

WW: Is part of that importance due to the way consumers have come to view their mobile devices as an extension of the home theater and media consumption systems in their homes?

Lyle: Absolutely, smartphones are an extension of home entertainment systems and PCs. People have been using mobile phones for years for basic multimedia entertainment – taking and viewing pictures, playing single-player games and listening to music. But now that most smartphones have HD video capabilities, they’ve become mobile entertainment consoles, for multiplayer video games, watching TV and movies, and even recording HD video. We also see a lot of opportunity in the fast-growing tablet market because the form factor is friendly for movies, TV and games. It’s easier than ever for consumers to connect mobile devices to a PC or flat panel TV, using USB or HDMI, or even wirelessly by using DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) technology – to easily port pictures, videos and other content.
Consumers have been trained to listen to poor sound quality on mobile devices and we’re trying to change that because surround sound audio enhances the overall entertainment experience and also serves as a competitive advantage and differentiator today for device OEMs.

WW: Do you have any partners announced in the mobile space?

Lyle: SRS works with many of the major mobile device OEMs and silicon providers. In the silicon space, our key partners include Qualcomm, Broadcom, Texas Instruments and Samsung Semiconductor. In mobile devices themselves, most notably our software is in several NEC and Huawei devices, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S line of Android smartphones and the Galaxy Tab, which have shipped in volume. SRS technology is also in a number of HTC’s Windows Phone 7 smartphones, and SRS is the only audio enhancement technology in the new Android smartphones and new Flyer tablet that HTC launched at Mobile World Congress in February. We also recently introduced the SRS iWOW 3D Audio Enhancement Adaptor, which is a direct-to-consumer product, designed specifically to deliver an optimized 3D audio experience for iPad, iPhone and iPod. The adaptor connects to any standard headphones and is available from SRS Labs’ online store and online retailers.


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