Surround Sound: I Bet You Didnt Know This

In our business, even if youve never heard of Ray Dolby, youd better know his namesake technologies, or youre in the wrong business. But Ill bet youve never heard of Peter Scheiber.
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In our business, even if youve never heard of Ray Dolby, youd better know his namesake technologies, or youre in the wrong business. But Ill bet youve never heard of Peter Scheiber.

My wife handed me the May 2007 edition of Indianapolis Monthly magazine last night and said, Theres an article in here about the guy who invented surround sound, but got no credit for it. Maybe its something you could use in your magazine.

I was curious, to say the least.

The article, in the lifestyle magazine for my hometown and soon-to-be new home, related the little-known saga of Scheiber, an audiophile and classical musician who created the original technology behind matrixed surround sound, but was mostly forgotten by history.

The story goes that the hobbyist inventor and bassoon player from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, had an idea for taking two channels of music and spreading it out into four channels. His concept was mostly well received by companies such as Philips, but because he was not an engineer by trade, no one really committed to him.

The turning point in his life, according to his interview in the magazine, came when Scheiber shared his concepts with Ray Dolby in a private conversation. Dolby, who declined to be interviewed, allegedly took this information and incorporated it into the first screenings of Star Wars in select theaters around the country. Although Scheiber has intended his invention to enhance the enjoyment of music, the killer app, it turns out, was the big screen.

Eventually Scheiber did receive compensation from Dolby as the company was taking his technology to the home market. The article makes the point, however, that Scheiber is currently living off Social Security in Bloomington, Indiana, while Ray Dolby is listed somewhere in the top 400 most wealthy people in the world.

All along, apparently, audiophiles in the know had credited the work of Scheiber. In fact, a group led by one of my companys favorite contributors, Videography magazine columnist Mark Schubin, were responsible for a technology Emmy being bestowed upon Scheiber, Dolby, and Jim Fosgate, for their combined work in developing surround sound for the home. Scheiber finally got his moment in the spotlight.

The history of sound, the article points out, is peppered with tragic innovators, including some who died distraught or penniless, but Scheiber has no intention of becoming one of them and is leery of how his story will be told. The story concludes with a reference to Scheibers new pursuit, which is to create a better surround sound format for music. No one, he says, has quite perfected the use of surround sound to enhance music, but thats what he originally set out to achieve.

Having watched formats come and go with very little commercial success, Im afraid Scheiber is barking up the wrong tree. But people have failed to give him enough credit before. Maybe hell surprise us again.

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