When Google announced the Nexus 7 it added that the tablet’s audio experience was improved through tech provided by a company named Fraunhofer. You may or may not have heard of Fraunhofer, though you should know a few things about it. The firm is credited with developing the MP3 format, helped develop the AAC codec and has been working with codecs in general for more than 20 years. It’s not only inventing new standards, it’s also providing software to device makers to help provide the best audio and video experiences available.
I set up an interview with the director of marketing and business development at Fraunhofer USA Digital Media Technologies, Jan Nordmann, to find out what makes its technology in the 2013 Nexus 7 so great, why consumers should care and what’s coming next. Let’s dive in to what Nordmann had to say.
Q: What changes in the audio experience for an everyday consumer?
A: The Nexus 7 (2013 edition) and the Nexus 10 include the HE-AAC codec that shipped with Android Jelly Bean. Both devices also offer Fraunhofer’s Cingo technology, which offers support for full 5.1 audio through the speakers or through an HDMI port on your TV and your home audio setup. The Google Play Store is now offering movies in 5.1 using the HE-AAC codec. So you can download or stream HD titles to your mobile device and you’ll get excellent surround sound.
There are three ways to enjoy it. One way is to plug in your Nexus device with an HDMI cable to your home theater system. In that case you get the Google Play Movies with 5.1 surround sound out of your living room speakers. An HD experience from video and audio quality that’s as good as from a DVD or HDTV broadcast. The other option is we call “Cingo” virtual surround sound technology. That takes a movie that was sold in 5.1 audio and it allows the consumer to listen to the 5.1 audio over standard stereo headphones or, in case of the Nexus devices, the built-in stereo speakers. It’s surround rendering that works over stereo hardware for an immersive experience on the go.
Q: Is your solution hardware or software based?
A: It’s purely software based and can run on basically every embedded platform. So Fraunhofer did not have anything to do with the hardware design of the Nexus 7. We did a certain amount of tuning for that specific device, but that’s all done on the software side. It works with legacy headphones and can be optimized for any type of device that comes with stereo speakers.
Q: Any hit to battery life?
A: It’s a very efficient implementation of a software algorithm so it doesn’t drain your battery substantially, you’re already watching HD video so there’s not a significant hit.
Q: I assume Google approached you. What was Google looking for specifically?
A: We engaged in a partnership with Google last year when Google added the HE-AAC 5.1 codec to the Android Jelly Bean operating system. Fraunhofer provided the software for that and, since then all Android Jelly Bean devices that are compatible with Google services have the HE-AAC multi-channel codec built-in to the operating system. That allows the service provider that’s offering a video streaming service to a phone or tablet to use the built-in functionality and send surround sound to an Android device without having to pay extra because the device is usually already licensed.
Q: Can we expect your Cingo tech in other tablets or smartphones?
A: This was introduced for the first time in a consumer product with the Nexus 7 (2013 edition). It will be available for the Nexus 10 with the update to Android 4.3. There are other companies that have similar technologies but it comes down to experiencing it and ours offers the best audio experience. Plus it can be adjusted and you can provide parameters to consumers depending on the level of detail you want to provide. The Nexus is a flagship device but you’ll see experiences in other devices as well.
Q: What’s next on the audio front? How can you improve the experience?
A: You’ll be surprised. I can’t tell you what’s in the next Nexus 7. The mobile experience is getting better and better in video and audio quality. The high-efficiency video coding (HEVC) standard will allow you to enjoy much better video quality on mobile devices even over congested networks because video encoding efficiency is much better. Once you have improved video quality people will demand better audio.
At CES we announced the partnership with Audi and Bang & Olufsen where they showed an Audi Q7 SUV with Fraunhofer’s new 3D audio technology called Symphoria, which allows you to render stereo or multi-channel music in a 3D environment. Speakers in the ceiling or in the upper parts of the car frame allow you to have a natural user experience from any type of content. The mobile and the car are the focus areas right now.
That should explain, in layman’s terms, what the new Cingo technology and HE-AAC codec, combined, help provide on the new Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10 with the Android 4.3 update. You’ll get a full 5.1 surround sound experience, all from your mobile device. If you have any other questions, let us know and we’ll try to get responses from Fraunhofer.