Sat, 07 Jan 2006

My Idea, In Practice

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one of dozens of product ideas I've had, has taken shape in the form of Yamaha's Intellibeam technology.

My idea was simple, and occurred to me after cobbling together my first true home theater system. I wanted to get the most for my money, and to do so required getting the Video Essentials DVD. This DVD allows you to determine the proper placement and levels for your audio speakers (as well as a blue piece of film and test signals to properly calibrate your video).

In fact, if you have invested in any home theater products at the midrange or above, you too could benefit from a proper calibration-- otherwise, your system is probably performing like a system that is worth half the price. But I digress.

While calibrating the audio, I was annoyed that the calibration software (the DVD) and the hardware (the audio coming from the speakers) and the test equipment (my Radio Shack sound pressure level meter) were not particularly integrated.

It occurred to me that the source system, by means of employing a microphone at the appropriate seating location, could sample the output audio waveforms and see how they differed from the input audio waveforms. If a certain speaker, because it was unfortuitously placed partially behind a piece of furniture, was attenuated, the speaker could detect that state, and increase the sound output levels from that speaker to compensate. Furthermore, the source could send the signal at various frequencies and parametrically equalize (EQ) the source signal to ensure the output signal matches, as much as possible, what the recording artist intended.

The consumer benefit of this technology is pretty obvious-- as home theater reaches the point of maturity on the consumer adoption curve, the profile of the average consumer of the technology is likely to have less control over the room in which the theater system is being installed. For example, someone renting an apartment may have difficulty installing proper sound insulation or putting in carpeting or the ability to enclose the listening room on four sides to ensure proper acoustics. This system would be able to dynamically determine the acoustic properties of the listening position and adjust the speaker system to produce the best possible experience.

This technology would also potentially provide a competitive advantage in the showroom as well. Having been in many less-than-ideal showrooms (so have you if you've ever been to a Best Buy, Circuit City, Frys, Good Guys, etc. -- they all have their tens of thousands of dollars of equipment improperly installed and calibrated), a product that could simply be calibrated by putting speakers in just about any configuration and having them dynamically reconfigure themselves to provide an optimal experience would embarrass technically superior systems that are simply out of whack.

The problem with me having the idea is that I didn't have any way to take advantage of it. As an independent inventor of this technology, it's not particularly feasible to produce this product as an "add-on" to a standard sound-pressure-level device, because you need to detect the original source signal and measure the difference through the analog channel.

For me to launch this idea meant licensing the idea to companies like Sony or Pioneer or JVC so they could integrate it into their home theater receivers. And for me to "possess" the idea meant patenting it and in the process of doing so, publicize it. And to actually demonstrate possession of a patent, you have to show an active interest in not only having the idea, but commercializing the idea, which would have meant effectively hacking apart an off-the-shelf Sony receiver, putting together my own DSP/DAC/ADC ASIC to integrate into it, to show the idea in action.

Realizing the amount of trouble it would take, and properly occupied by family and career, I chose to instead wait to see how long it would take the industry to capitalize on this (in my opinion) obvious idea, and ship a product to market. Looks like the winner of the "putting theory into practice" award is Yamaha!

Khan Klatt

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