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DTS reads minds to prove that enhanced audio, not video, is what really sparks emotion

HD, Super HD, Ultra HD – everyone is scrambling to put out crazy hi-res video quality these days. But according to DTS, when it comes to our mobile devices, what really stirs our emotions may have a lot less to do with the video quality, and much more to do with that other piece of the media equation: sound.

DTS has a lot invested in sound when it comes to mobile video applications. The Cisco VNI mobile traffic forecast predicts over two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2018, and DTS wants in on that action. The company has put a bankroll into its powerful new virtual surround sound encoding technology, Headphone:X, which uses specialized software and chips to virtually transform run-of-the-mill stereo headphones into surround sound masterpieces.

We’ve had a few chances to audition Headphone:X, and we have to say, its extremely impressive. Like, remove-the-headphones-I-swear-something’s-creeping-up-behind-me impressive. But DTS didn’t just throw all that time and money at Headphone:X to make stuff sound cool on your smartphone. To find out just how important sound is in comparison to video quality for mobile, the company went all scientific on that biz.

In a recent interview, DTS Senior VP Geir Skaaden, and CEO of Neuro Insight, Pranav Yadav, explained to us how it took delving into the human mind to find out the truth about whether more hairs are raised from what we see, or what we hear. Specifically, DTS commissioned Neuro Insight to study the brain waves of 107 mobile users to find out whether their emotions were more affected by audio or video, and by how much.

As Yadav explained, the scientists strapped on 28 sensors over each subject’s noggin and showed them a mixture of video snippets over 10-inch tablets, each of which was divided into 3 different video resolutions: 240p, 480p, and 1080p. However, the audio was kept constant, feeding half of the participants basic stereo sound, while the other half were treated to the Headphone:X enhanced virtual surround sound experience. That’s where things got interesting.

The scientists measure neurological responses using an array of 5 metrics that show changing activity in the brain due to stimulus. For this particular study, Neuro Insight focused specifically on the increase of pleasure, measured by what’s called the hedonic index (like … hedonism), and what they found was pretty surprising.

First of all, the study showed an overall 42 percent increase in enjoyment from participants listening to Headphone:X as compared to stereo sound when measured by increases in the hedonic index. Interestingly enough, when the video resolution was in the middle at 480p resolution, that increase in enjoyment shot up to a whopping 66 percent in favor of the Headphone:X subjects. DTS study edit

But perhaps most surprising, especially to those of us neck deep in video tech, is that video resolution barely moved the needle. The study showed virtually no measurable change in emotional enjoyment, topping out at a 2 percent increase at the highest resolution. Seriously?! 2 percent!? Kind of makes you want to take back that retina iPad for the old school version, doesn’t it?

Of course, even if you followed all that neuro-science jargon (and subscribe to it) there’s still an issue at hand with Headphone:X. While it seems the technology has been empirically proven to make your mobile video experience way more kick-ass, most of us still can’t get Headphone:X. The company has been slow in rolling the system out, and it’s still only available in a few products, including a line of mobile devices in China from a company called Vivo. Doesn’t do us much good here, does it?

We pushed Skaaden about the issue, asking exactly when Headphone:X will be released at large in the U.S., but got no definitive answer. For now, DTS doesn’t see Headphone:X as an app you can purchase, but more as a companion piece for a selection of partners. Skaaden says they are currently working with companies like Netflix and Vimeo to have Headphone:X embedded in video streams. Potentially. At some point.

We didn’t need a study to tell us that Headphone:X can stir your emotions, because we’ve heard it for ourselves. But as of now, the system is more of an intangible idea than a practical part of the mobile experience for most of us. We hope DTS will make that experience something we all can enjoy – sooner than later.

To see more about how Neuro Insight does its crazy brain measuring magic, check out the video below.

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