CES 2019: Sony Previews Three New Soundbars, 360 Reality Audio

Sony announced the HT-X8500 Soundbar, a Dolby Atmos/DTS:X single soundbar with built-in subwoofers, and the new HT-S350 Soundbar. Complementing this exceptional audio offering, the new UBP-X800M2 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player delivers the ultimate cinema-quality home theater experience.

HT-X8500 Soundbar
“Whether it’s the stunning 4K picture achieved with the new UBP-X800M2 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player or all-encompassing surround sound delivered through these new soundbars, the home theater experience Sony provides is unmatched,” says Mike Fasulo, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics North America. “These new home audio and video products will elevate customers’ ability to access theater-level sound and picture quality from the comfort of home.”

One of the first Dolby Atmos soundbars with dual built-in subwoofers, the X8500 delivers a three-dimensional cinematic sound experience. This 2.1ch Dolby Atmos/DTS:X compatible soundbar provides a high-quality audio in a slim and modern design. Thanks to Sony’s unique digital signal processing technologies, such as Vertical Surround Engine, the X8500 can deliver up to 7.1.2ch surround sound no matter what type of room the soundbar is in.

Featuring seven sound modes to match the ideal entertainment experience, viewers can go deeper into movies with Cinema Mode or feel enhanced gameplay in Game Mode. Additionally, vocal enhancement boosts audio frequencies to isolate voices and amplify them above background noise for greater clarity. The X8500 has one-cable HDMI eARC support for the latest high-quality sound formats for compatible televisions. Bluetooth wireless connectivity enables the soundbar to easily connect to a TV or stream music from a smartphone with a clean, simple wireless set-up. Clear bass arriving via the built-in dual subwoofer rounds out the listening experience of the X8500.

With 320 watts of high-power sound, the new HT-S350 soundbar delivers impressive surround sound and deep, powerful bass with its wireless subwoofer. Sony’s unique and enhanced S-Force PRO Front Surround technology, together with 5.1ch decoding support, delivers a wider, more enveloping and accurate soundstage than ever before. Connect the soundbar to a TV via HDMI ARC for easy operation. This soundbar also has Bluetooth functionality, similar to the X8500.

These new additions to the Sony soundbar family can be seamlessly integrated into the home thanks to their sleek and stylish design. Both have punched metal grills, with iconic subwoofer ducts on the side of the X8500 bar, while the S350 has a matching subwoofer with a large duct.

The new X800M2 supports 4K Ultra HD playback, HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) to deliver stunning picture quality. Additionally, 4K upscaling is also possible with the X800M2, transforming non-4K content to highly detailed, near-4K quality content.

The X800M2 also supports the latest and highest quality audio formats, including Hi-Res Audio and DSD. With the X8500 and X800M2, users can achieve the best home cinema experience with seamless pass-through of high-quality Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content, providing optimized picture and sound quality. The X800M2 is compatible with all major disc formats, including SACD/DVD-A, as well as 4K streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube. Users can stream their favorite shows via the Blu-ray player in ultra-high definition.

Availability and Pricing
The HT-X8500, HT-S350 and UBP-X800M2 will be available in spring 2019 with pricing to be announced at that time.

In addition, Sony announced an all-new music experience called “360 Reality Audio” that makes listeners feel as if they are immersed in sound from all directions.

Sony is working with major music labels, music distribution services, and other such music organizations to provide the technology for building a musical ecosystem around 360 Reality Audio, which will include the creation, distribution, and playing of music content. Meanwhile, Sony is working to promote this new music experience to music creators, artists, and music fans, looking to create an entirely new world of music entertainment.

“We are excited to be part of this innovative project which allows consumers to listen to music in a completely new way. Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, based on MPEG-H 3D Audio, is providing audiences with a highly creative, cutting-edge music experience,” says Bernhard Grill, Director, Audio and Media Technologies, Fraunhofer IIS. “Thanks to the underlying support of MPEG-H object-based audio, the vocals, instruments, and effects can be placed all around the listeners, immersing them like never before. With 360 Reality Audio, Sony offers a pioneering service for music lovers and creatives alike.”

“Sony Music is pleased to be partnering with Sony Corporation to support the growth of 360 Reality Audio. We are long-running believers in high-quality audio solutions that enhance the listening experience for consumers, and this three-dimensional sound format is an exciting new option for fans seeking a more immersive way to hear their favorite music,” remarks Dennis Kooker, President, Global Digital Business & U.S. Sales, Sony Music Entertainment. “We look forward to working with a growing number of digital service providers to make songs from our artists available for streaming in 360 Reality Audio.”

“We are always looking for new ways to amplify our artists’ music, and fostering a diversity of listening options is great for our artists and their fans,” says Ole Obermann, Chief Digital Officer & Executive Vice President, Business Development, Warner Music Group. “Sony’s immersive audio tier will add a new dimension to streaming services and offers music lovers a high-quality experience they won’t get elsewhere. We are impressed with what we have heard so far, and happy to support the launch of this new technology.”

360 Reality Audio uses Sony’s object-based spatial audio technology to provide an immersive music experience that feels just like being at a live concert.

360 Reality Audio makes it possible for artists and music creators to create a 360-degree musical experience by mapping sound sources such as vocals, chorus and instruments with positional information of distance and angle to suit their creative and artistic purpose. When listeners play back the resulting content, they can enjoy a music experience that immerses them in sound from every direction as intended by the content creator.

The 360 Reality Audio Musical Ecosystem
Content creation
Sony will provide content creation tools and work with major music labels to prepare and augment music into 360 Reality Audio content. Also, existing music that is already in multitrack sound format will be able to be converted into a 360 Reality Audio compatible format using the production tools that Sony will provide.

Distribution format
Sony plans to release a format optimized for music distribution. With the cooperation of the Fraunhofer IIS, part of Europe’s largest organization for applied research, the format will be compliant with MPEG-H 3D Audio, an open audio standard.

Services for distributing compatible content
The plan is to distribute 360 Reality Audio compatible content on the premium plans offered by music distribution services.

Compatible devices
Sony is looking into the potential for a variety of audio devices to support this new music content, but it will initially focus on technological development of Sony’s headphones and speakers.

For headphones, a dedicated device will not be needed for the user to play back 360 Reality Audio compatible content and experience a sound field with a realistic feel unlike anything conventional headphones have been able to offer. However, to deliver the best possible musical experience, it will be necessary to measure the hearing characteristics of the individual user’s ear and apply signal processing accordingly to the reproduced sound. Sony is developing an app that will enable users to take photos of their own ears with a smartphone to create an optimized musical experience based on an analysis of the hearing characteristics of user’s ears.

Speaker systems which project sound in all directions will be able to reproduce a 360 Reality Audio experience.

Other manufacturers’ audio products that support the distribution format from Sony will also be able to play back 360 Reality Audio content. For headphones, in particular, it will be possible to enjoy the content simply by using apps offered by the participating music service providers.

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