Fraunhofer IIS shows audio technology at VON.x 2008

Fraunhofer IIS shows audio technology at VON.x 2008

Summary: In the world where chip technology improves exponentially, acoustic engineering isn't so simple and it presents a huge hurdle to overcome to the world of telephony and video conferencing.  Fraunhofer IIS (inventors of MPEG-1 Layer 3 AKA MP3) seeks to tackle this challenge and showed off some of its research and upcoming products at VON.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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In the world where chip technology improves exponentially, acoustic engineering isn't so simple and it presents a huge hurdle to overcome to the world of telephony and video conferencing.  Fraunhofer IIS (inventors of MPEG-1 Layer 3 AKA MP3) seeks to tackle this challenge and showed off some of its research and upcoming products at VON.x 2008.

The first demonstration given to me was echo cancellation technology that prevents sound coming out of a speaker from reentering the microphone.  This is one of the most annoying things about using PC telephony like Skype since Skype lacks good echo cancellation technology[update 3/20/2008 - Recent versions of Skype now have very good echo cancellation on Windows, Mac, and Linux.  I still experienced some problems because the clients on the other end were using older versions of Skype.]  When you connect to someone using a speaker and microphone, you can often hear yourself talking a split second after you speak and it's incredibly annoying.  With Fraunhofer's echo cancellation technology, that problem virtually disappeared.

Now I'm fully aware that Skype is a free application but that hasn't stopped open source solutions like Asterisk from offering licensed technology where a user for example pays $10 for the G.729 codec.  I'd gladly pay a little money for some good echo cancellation software.

The other cool demonstration was the discrete multichannel sound separation technology.  Normally when you're in a room with multiple microphones being mixed in to a single sound channel and transmitted over a single audio channel, the sound is blurred.  But when the sound from each microphone and each person is sent in its own channel and played back from its own speakers, you can clearly hear each person speaking at the same time.  The downside of course is that each audio channel uses a separate 64 Kbps steam but that may not be a problem since it's dwarfed by the video stream.

If you can't spare the bandwidth and you only want to use a single 64 Kbps audio stream, Fraunhofer has another technology that can separate each person on to its own channel by marking the streams with few identifiers.  Once that's done, each person can be moved from one sector to the other in a graphical interface shown below such that their sounds come out from the corresponding speakers.  While it wasn't as pure as the discrete channel solution, it sounded almost as good because each person's voice had its own dedicated speaker.  Just the act of using a physically different speaker cone per voice seems to have a huge impact on quality.

While this technology demo used 5 speakers, there's no reason it can't be made to work with the more typical stereo speaker set up.  I'd love to see audio conferencing bridges incorporate this technology such that multiple sound sources are marked for separate speakers so that they can be played back from separate speakers.

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Um... Skype does have AEC

    You can debate if Skype's AEC should allow it to be tuned more aggressively, but it would be factually incorrect to pretend it's not in there.
    spark555
    • Like the rest of Skype, it doesn't work well

      George Ou didn't say that Skype doesn't have AEC, he said that it doesn't have [i]good[/i] echo cancellation technology, and he is exactly right. Like most of the rest of Skype, their effort at AEC is poor, it does a marginally bad job in most situations and doesn't work at all in others, but Skype hides behind their silly "it can't be bad if 270 million people are using it".
      j.a.watson
      • MSN messenger has much better echo cancellation, but horrible codec

        MSN messenger has much better echo cancellation, but it doesn't use wideband. It also isn't anywhere near as firewall friendly as Skype. Everyone has their weaknesses.
        georgeou
    • yeah, too bad it doesn't work at all

      nt
      georgeou
  • Fraunhofer uses their patents to impede innovation...

    ...unless it's their own patented product. MP3 players are everywhere. Try to find an Ogg player. It's really hard to find except for two or three.

    So Fraunhofer promotes the mp3 and THEN enforces the patents. They took lessons from MS, obviously. Or was it the other way around?

    Once companies got locked into royalties with Fraunhofer, they didn't want to lose their investment by providing ogg functionality.

    Hmmm. I wonder. Did the contracts preclude music player manufacturers from providing alternative format functionality?

    what a shame. Now they come up with this new tech, and anyone who tries to do the same thing with software will be sued by Fraunhofer or their agents.

    No more software patents, please.
    epitax
    • true... and ogg is a far better technology.

      You can get far better quality audio from ogg than mp3, especially at lower bitrates. Better than wma format too - and wma is also better than mp3.

      But mp3 is the format that every music player supports. Media players that support ogg are very rare these days.
      james.faction
      • MP3 is very old so it isn't a fair comparison

        MP3 is VERY old so it isn't a fair comparison against a modern codec like OGG.

        They showed Fraunhoffer's AAC low delay codec to me and it exhibited very good quality and very good robustness against packet loss.
        georgeou