The audio quality, or the lack it, is one of the biggest pain points of business communication these days. But there seems to be a solution and it has come from unlikely quarters. Not that unlikely when you consider that the company is question, Dolby Laboratories, has been improving all other types of audio over the past many years.
Now, Dolby is going to power the entire British Telecom MeetMe app and service, a unified communication solution for mobile age.
“When we looked at the space we found a big problem with audio conferencing even though people had used it for a long time. It was never very engaging or enjoyable and we thought there was an opportunity to be better,” says Andrew Border, Vice President and General Manager of Dolby’s Communications Business Group.
Dolby provides the software-based media server for the service and mixes all the audio streams together. “This allows us to do some interesting things, like matching the volume for listeners and noise filtration on the server side,” says Border, adding that in most audio conferences a few loud talkers tend to dominate as the soft spoken people are hardly heard. He would know, for as Director of Product Management for Unified Communications at Cisco, he defined the IT giant’s instant messaging and video strategy.
While Dolby delivers the software that runs on the end-user devices, be it a PC or smartphone, the company has also built the conference phones for the service. Also, Dolby’s expertise in cinema audio shows up a bit with them adding the dimensions of space and movement to audio conferencing.
“Humans hear in stereo and can separate ambient noise. So people using the BT-Dolby service can hear all the different talkers separated, which does not exist in any other system. And thanks to our noise filtration you don’t need to keep pressing the mute key to keep the ambient noise out,” he says, adding that since everything the participant say is captured, it is easier for others to make out if they are catching up. “It is much more natural.”
“Most Dolby technologies are playback solutions in non-realtime. This is something we do in real-time and have had to optimise certain other attributes and develop new technologies for these use cases,” says Border, adding that they have worked on making the system as low latency as possible.
“Delay can come in the way of having a natural conversation. There are always some delays, but we have kept it to a minimum and deliver the optimised audio superfast.”
Border says people who experience this new service will realise how used they are to poor audio quality. “They are very surprised by what we can do and makes them even question their video conferencing solutions. Audio is most probably the most important part of the meeting for you can carry on even if the video is not working, or if the slide sharing is not great. But not without the audio,” he adds.
In countries like India where a data-based service might have issues, Border assures that there is always the support for regular dial-in. “That user will be narrow band and won’t be part of the rich experience. But you will not pull down the experience for other users,” he adds.
The apps for the phone and PC, however, offer a single-click to join experience for users. Dolby says companies will soon realise that a solution like this can make teams more effective and engaged and bring down fatigue. “Just adding a sense of movement to the audio conference means you are more engaged as it is triggering a response in the brain. That is why this is such an interesting transition.”