Bringing Content to Life Through Sound
“Sound plays a very important role in making the content we consume immersive,” said Sunmin Kim, Head of the Sound Device Lab, Visual Display Business at Samsung Electronics. Be it romantic films, funny TV shows or even live sports broadcasts, Kim believes that a majority of the emotional impact from visual content is delivered through sound. “For example, it’s often the background music and sound effects that make horror films more terrifying. If you were to turn off the sound, many scenes wouldn’t be as scary. In fact, you may even find some scenes to be funny.”
“The Sound Device Lab is committed to developing optimal solutions that deliver sound just as artists intended,” said Sunmin Kim, Head of the Sound Device Lab, Visual Display Business.
“Film, TV and music directors are all artists. And what’s important to me is that they work to amplify stories through sound effects and music,” said Kim. “The goal here at the Sound Device Lab is to deliver content to viewers as the artists intended.”
This can be a daunting task because production and viewing environments tend to vary significantly. Seongsu Park, who oversees speaker development and audio evaluation in the Sound Device Lab, shared some of the challenges his team faces.
“Audio for movies and TV shows, in general, are mixed to a reference level of approximately 85 decibels (dB), equivalent to volume levels found in a movie theater. However, at home, many viewers watch the content at lower volumes. According to our research, many TV viewers reduce the volume to around 60dB, and some even to 20dB, to avoid disturbing neighbors,” explained Park. This means that dialogues that would have been audible in the mixing studio may be indiscernible in the living room. Engineers must consider additional differences in consumers’ viewing environments such as curtains, furniture and other elements that might absorb or deflect sound waves.
“We’ve moved on from front-facing speakers to speakers all around the TV,” said Seongsu Park of the Samsung Visual Display Business.
The Sound Device Lab found solutions in the form of hardware and software innovations. From the hardware side, multiple smaller, specialized speakers were introduced to provide surround sound. With innovative software, these speakers were tuned to form a balanced audio experience and remixed the sound signals to ensure key sound factors are delivered to viewers.
Adjusting Audio to Complement TV Design
TVs have become slimmer from both the front and side. As a result, Samsung sound engineers have been tasked with innovating in order to create more immersive audio. “In the past, huge front-facing stereo speakers were on each side of the TV screen. Current TV designs rethink this placement,” said Park.
TV designs have become thinner and slimmer, so sound engineers have been tasked with getting creative.
The Sound Device Lab developed multiple smaller speaker units for its TVs and placed them away from plain sight. By arranging these units in different directions and coordinating the audio output, the team was able to simulate surround sound.
This technology is further pushed in models that feature Neural Processing Units (NPUs), such as the Neural Quantum Processor found on select Neo QLED TV models, by unlocking features like Object Tracking Sound (OTS). OTS identifies picture and audio objects on the screen in real time before matching, tracking and coordinating multiple speakers to create a dynamic three-dimensional soundscape.
The latest Samsung TVs utilize a number of distributed speakers to offer a more 3D-like sound.*
To support slimmer bezels and flat-to-the-wall TV designs, sound engineers also had to reduce the physical size of the speakers. Speakers operate by physically pushing out air, so in many cases, speaker performance is directly affected by size. As the Sound Device Lab could not physically enlarge the speakers, it instead focused on the range of movement.
“Let’s say the moving range of a speaker driver is 100. Using 50-70% of that range was considered to be sufficient. To respond to slimmer TV designs, however, we raised that range to 80-85%,” explained Park. “As we fit smaller but more efficient speakers in our TVs, we were not only able to accommodate the slimmer design, but we also ended up improving the collective sound performance.”
A wide range of speakers are strategically positioned in recent Samsung TVs, including up-firing and side-firing hidden center speakers as well as woofers that bounce deep bass off the walls.*
Creating Perfect Balance From Every Angle
While adding speakers resulted in a more immersive and dynamic audio experience, it posed another challenge. Sound engineers had to fine-tune and balance the multiple speakers to achieve a perfect blend of sound. With many speakers operating at differing frequency ranges and all facing different directions, tuning them to work in unison as a single balanced unit was difficult.
The effort started with gathering accurate data. In anechoic and semi-anechoic chambers, the Sound Device Lab members measured TV sounds from 323 different points, covering the entire range of TV viewing, for each of the settings until the frequency and volume balance was optimal. After that, they took each model to listening rooms and simulated various real-life living room settings to ensure the speakers were tuned to perfection.
Direct sounds, sans echoes and reverberations, are measured and tuned at a total of 323 points by adjusting TV angles. This is an essential process in tuning each unit to an optimal sound balance.
(Clockwise from the top left) The images represent the following: (1) a graph measuring Sound Pressure Level (SPL) by frequency band at a specific angle, (2) SPL in a specific frequency space, (3) SPL by distance for all frequency bands and SPL by frequency band at an angle from a specific direction and (4) a graph combining measurements from all 323 points. This is the process of finding a “Target Curve” that ensures even sound distribution within the human hearing range, tuning each speaker to deliver excellent sound quality from any angle.
As the global TV market leader for 17 consecutive years, Samsung remains committed to innovating the TV experience. So, what’s next?
“I was shocked when a colleague told me that the volume keys are the most frequently pressed buttons on a TV remote. This signals a clear inconvenience. So, it has become a vision of mine to remove the volume buttons completely from the remote control,” shared Park, expressing his desire to enable Samsung TVs to automatically adjust the volume based on surrounding noise.
“Great technology produces and delivers accurate sound,” said Kim. “We will continue to incorporate our long-running expertise with newer technologies such as AI to create as close a reference sound as possible.”
In the next part of this series, Samsung Newsroom will explore the role of AI in elevating audio performance and sound experiences.
* Speaker locations may vary by model.