Home > About Us > News & Reviews > The Sound Of Success - February 2, 2000 MSNBC Technology Section

The Sound Of Success - February 2, 2000 MSNBC Technology Section

The Holophone microphone unit - The sound of success? Canadian entrepreneur says his microphone breakthrough revolutionizesthe recording of surround sound By Barry Brown - MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR

-TORONTO, Feb. 2 - If fans watching the Super Bowl on ABC's
high-definition TV broadcast closed their eyes for a moment, the
sound of bone-crunching contact would have seemed so real
they might have jumped out of the way, according to the
inventor of the Holophone, the first breakthrough in microphone
technology in nearly 20 years.-

MICHAEL GODFREY, A MULTITALENTED musician and composer, came up with the idea for his 3-D sound technology whilelistening to Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut" on a Sony Walkman. When he thought he heard footsteps behind him, he turned to see no one there. Then, in one of those eureka moments, he realized this was what recorded
sound should be like - ultrarealistic.

The question then, he said, "was how to get this cool experience without headphones."

Seven years later, Godfrey was hoisting his football-shaped Holophone up a pole on the 50-yard line at the Georgia Dome, as part of ABC-TV's HDTV coverage of the Super Bowl. He could also hear his work on the soundtrack of Oliver Stone's football film, "Any Given Sunday."

For the film, Godfrey recorded more than 100,000 screaming fans at the University of Michigan homecoming game.

"I saw the film, and every time I heard this lady's screaming cheer, I knew it was my recording," he said from his Toronto-based company, Rising Sun Productions.

After studying film sound mixing at The Recording Workshop in Chillicothe, Ohio, he began tinkering with existing surround sound microphones. Shaped like a crash test dummy head, they use microphones in the dummy's ears to create realistic sound, Godfrey explained.

For his experiment, Godfrey incorporated 10 microphones into the head and hit the street to record the sounds of passing traffic.

Its success prompted him to patent the idea and, with the help of his father, start building a business on "the way we understand sound."

Most 3-D sound researchers "are all these physicists working with calculators and computers to figure out the exact measurements of sound waves. I said, here's the basic shape of the head and the concept, so I tried it and it worked," he explained.

After Universal Studios gave his first prototype an enthusiastic response, Godfrey linked up with Canada's National Research Council. With the council's help, the Holophone was redesigned, and high-end prototypes were presented at conferences of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, the Audio Engineers Society and the Surround 2000 conference sponsored by the "the audience is listening" company, THX.

At THX, he said, people were talking about his invention as "the future of sound."

Typically, surround-sound microphones have 5.1 channels, which includes the low tone sub-woofer, considered the ".1". The 6.1-channel Holophone includes an overhead microphone - sounds that were never even considered by sound engineers.

Bobby Owsinski, partner in Los Angeles-based Surround Associates, a company that "re-purposes" stereo recordings into a DVD mix, declared the Holophone "amazing, maybe even revolutionary".

After testing it with some studio musicians, Owsinski, who also produces and records rock and pop bands, said the "extra channel points in the sky and gets all the (sound) information we never even tried to capture. That's what distinguishes this microphone."

Few musicians "record in surround, so the mike is mostly for film and TV post-production. But I produce a heavy metal band in surround. And the next time I record a band, I plan on using the Holophone all the way through," he said.

With U.S. law mandating the expansion of HDTV, and film makers, theater owners and Web-based broadcasters searching for expanded entertainment experiences, the potential market for the Holophone seems large.

The key to his device, Godfrey added, is that it can work with any sound system - from THX and Dolby Digital to DVDs, home theater, Internet streaming and Imax.

Currently, to create sounds close to what the Holophone can pick up, highly paid engineers need to be in the studio remixing recordings until the experience is close to real. The Holophone does that on its own, he said,making mixing just the art and no longer the need.

Rising Sun is still finalizing its pricing for the Holophone, but with production already under way, Godfrey said the cost is expected to beunder U.S. $10,000.

Legend has it that when the first movie of a speeding train was shown in a Paris theater about 100 years ago, patrons were so terrified by the realism of that early film that they ran screaming from the theaters.

With the Holophone, Godfrey explained, "they will jump out of their seats again, because you're not just listening to the sound, you're feeling it. It affects your body and send chills through you because it tricks your brain into thinking you're somewhere else."