AV Industry Icons
May 1, 2006 12:00 PM,
By Jack Kontney
Pioneers’ contributions have a big impact on the technology.
Innovations by a few industry pioneers have laid the foundation for many of today’s most impressive AV technology. Pictured: The original Dolby A301 noise reduction system (1966).
Anyone who’s attended the major AV industry trade shows over the past couple of decades can’t help but be wowed by the tremendous growth of our industry. Installations that once struggled to sound good have become truly impressive displays of technology, integrating professional audio, video, and computer systems that can do just about anything imaginable.
Many of the high-tech products that are specified and installed on a daily basis can be traced back to the contributions of a handful of visionaries. These inventors and educators share with us a dedication and love for high-performance electronics, but excel in their ability to create a path to the next generation of gear. Some are learned academics; others are college dropouts. What they share is a desire and ability to solve problems. Here is a brief look at some of the people who have helped shape the course of audiovisual design.
Leo Beranek is best known as the co-founder of Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), the first major acoustical consulting organization. The firm sparked an entire industry: “I know of 15 acoustical consulting firms that were started by former employees of BBN,” Beranek says. “These firms are all doing audio design. Major consulting firms that grew directly out of BBN include Acentech, Artec, Cavanaugh-Tocci, Kirkegaard Associates, Hoover and Keith, McKay Conant Brook, and Mueller-BBM.”
Beranek was born in Solon, Iowa, in 1914. Growing up, he developed an interest in music and learned to build and repair radios. He attended Cornell College, majoring in physics and math, and attended graduate school at Harvard, receiving his Ph.D. in 1940.
During World War II, Beranek headed the Electro-Acoustic Laboratory at Harvard. In 1948, he left with fellow professor Richard Bolt to form what would become BBN. Their first big job was the new United Nations building in New York. BBN worked across many technology fields, including jet engine noise reduction and sound measurement equipment design. The firm remained at the forefront of technology — getting involved in computers in the 1950s and using its many government contracts to help create the TCP/IP protocol that led to the Internet.
Asked to reflect on his influence today, Beranek says, “I have always felt that my MIT course on acoustics and the book that was derived from it, Acoustics (1954), were vital elements in the beginnings of the AV industry. I developed an analogous circuit that permitted the presence of electrical, mechanical, and acoustical elements in one schematic diagram. This pointed the way for the bookshelf-sized loudspeakers. I devised the first criteria curves for acceptable noise levels in living spaces, the so-called NC Criteria Curves, which are in the category of psycho-acoustics.”
His lifelong interest in music led to a consulting specialization in auditorium acoustics. His recently updated book, Concert Halls and Opera Houses: Music, Acoustics, and Architecture, remains an industry standard. Notable among the many awards Beranek has received is the U.S. government’s National Medal of Science in engineering. He has also received the Gold Medal awards of both the Audio Engineering Society (AES) and the Acoustical Society of America.
French by birth and an inventor at heart, Yves Faroudja has devoted most of his professional activities in the United States toward the goal of achieving 35mm film quality in video applications. Over a career spanning nearly four decades, Faroudja has been credited as the inventor of a wide range of innovations, many of which have been licensed to the makers of both production and consumer video electronics. Many of the advances that have brought NTSC closer to RGB accuracy, moving forward into today’s adoption of standards for HDTV, can be credited directly or traced to advances developed by Faroudja.
After earning his MSEE degree from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Electricité, Paris, he worked at ITT Research Laboratories in France and at NATO in Italy until he moved to the United States in the mid-1960s. The company he founded with his wife, Isabell, in 1971, Faroudja Laboratories, holds more than 65 patents on various video processes. Companies that have licensed Faroudja technologies for use in their advanced video systems read like a virtual who’s who of video electronics: Sony, Sanyo, Panasonic, Ikegami, NEC, Canon, Grass Valley, Sharp, and Mitsubishi, among others. Among the technologies Yves Faroudja helped develop are line-multiplying technology, advanced NTSC encoding/decoding, video image enhancement, and video noise reduction. Faroudja was a key contributor in the development of several generations of video recorders, including the Sony U-matic 3/4in. broadcast, Hi-8, and S-VHS formats. He is also the inventor of the Reverse Telecine Process, and is often recognized as the world’s foremost expert in the area of video format conversion.
Faroudja has been the recipient of three Technical Emmy awards, including the Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, as well as many other honors. He remains active in the industry, currently sitting on the board of directors of Tvia.
Tim Berners-Lee is the inventor of the World Wide Web. He was born in London in 1955, the son of two mathematicians. He graduated with honors from Queens College, Oxford University in 1976, receiving his degree in physics. While there, he built his first computer, using a collection of TTL gates, a broken television, an M6800 processor, and a soldering iron. In 1984, Berners-Lee accepted a fellowship at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Switzerland. While there, he proposed a global hypertext project to be known as the World Wide Web. The idea was to allow easier collaboration among scientists by combining their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents that could be accessed over the Internet.
It’s important to realize that the Internet — essentially, a physical network connecting many computers — had already been in existence for many years at this point. With the hypertext project, Berners-Lee succeeded in creating a protocol for sharing information across those physical connections. The World Wide Web uses HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol), devised by Berners-Lee, as a set of rules for transferring files between machines. He also wrote the World Wide Web server and its first client, a hypertext browser/editor. This was made available internally at CERN at the end of 1990, and then unleashed on the Internet at large in 1991. In a single stroke, the World Wide Web offered the possibility of order and accessibility in the previously chaotic world of the Internet.
Like many of the most insightful inventions, the World Wide Web seemed obvious to the person who created it. Berners-Lee is famously quoted as saying, “I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and — ta-da! — the World Wide Web.” But that is the essence of invention: the creative combining of ideas in a new way. The real genius of the Web lies in its universality, driven by Berners-Lee’s determination that it should be kept non-proprietary and made freely available to all. To that end, Berners-Lee founded the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, and remains its director to this day.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has received a vast array of award and honors for his work, including a knighthood in his native England. He was named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most important people of the 20th century. He currently resides in Boston, working toward the next generation of information sharing, the Semantic Web.
Carolyn and Don Davis
DON AND CAROLYN DAVIS
Don and Carolyn Davis are best known as the founders of Synergetic Audio Concepts. Formed in 1972, Syn-Aud-Con has been directly responsible for the education of more than 10,000 contractors and designers.
Don Davis began his career at Altec in 1959, where his primary task was to set up the company’s new distribution network and train sound contractors in its use. In the course of doing that, he came into contact with Dr. C. Paul “Doc” Boner, acknowledged as the father of sound system equalization. “That’s when the idea came to me to develop the 1/3-octave continuous filter set,” recalls Davis. His work also brought him into contact with Hewlett-Packard. “I talked them into building for me the first 1/3-octave realtime analyzer that was delivered in the United States.”
Davis realized that there were a lot of independent sound contractors who needed training. Leaving Altec, he mustered support from a group of manufacturers and established Syn-Aud-Con. He also wrote a book, Sound System Engineering (newly revised), that remains an industry standard. Packing the world’s first realtime analyzer in the trunk of their car, Don and Carolyn hit the road. What they found was a community that was anxious for knowledge. “The audio industry attracts a lot of people because of its combination of art and science,” notes Don Davis. “And we take a lot of the artists and turn them into a little bit more of a scientist. Those are powerful people. All they needed was the knowledge.”
With all the changes in equipment and technology over the years, the couple’s subject matter has evolved, but their approach has remained constant. “You need to learn the fundamentals of audio. Once you’ve done that, if you can extrapolate it into some of the new convenient forms like digital, that’s fine. You know, physics does not change.”
Don and Carolyn Davis reside in Arizona. Recently, they received the Distinguished Achievement Award in Sound Design & Technology at the annual convention of the USITT. Both are fellows of the AES.
Perhaps more than any other person in this article, Henry Kloss embraced both the audio and video sides of the industry. A native of Altoona, Pa., Kloss was a physics major at MIT when he left school to begin his professional career in the early 1950s. He never went back.
At the time, hi-fi hobbyists were attempting to extract the best sound they could from the equipment of the era. One of Kloss’ former instructors, Edward Villchur (a student of Leo Beranek), had envisioned a new design, the sealed acoustic suspension speaker, which reduced the size of the speaker needed to reproduce low frequencies and offered excellent linearity. But the major speaker companies rejected it, so Kloss and Villchur formed Acoustic Research, producing the AR-1 speaker in 1954. The concept of big-speaker performance in a smaller package was embraced by the hi-fi buying public and remains a constant in speaker design to this day.
Kloss stayed in audio until he founded the Advent Corporation in 1968 with the stated goal of developing a projection television system. The Advent VideoBeam 1000 projection television system was introduced in 1972. The VideoBeam used three light sources, all aimed at a single large screen. It was large, heavy, and difficult to align. But anyone walking down “Projector Row” at InfoComm knows that when Henry Kloss introduced the projection television, the world suddenly changed. Always modest about his invention, he claims that, in reality, he had simply assembled a variety of existing technologies to produce a product that, in his mind, had been there all along.
Considering that he worked almost exclusively in consumer electronics, the impact Henry Kloss has had on the AV industry is profound. In recognition of his amazing career, he was one of the 50 original inductees into the Consumer Electronics Association’s Hall of Fame and winner of an Emmy award for his projection television. He died in 2002.
Dan Dugan has two claims to fame: He invented automatic microphone mixing, and he is the first person ever to be credited as sound designer for a theatrical production. In fact, he gave up his scholarship at the University of San Francisco (where he was a physics and math major) in 1963 in order to become a lighting designer. Later, Dugan did sound design for three resident productions of Hair (Chicago, Las Vegas, and Toronto), but couldn’t land the sound operator positions because they were union gigs.
“I realized I had to work for myself,” he remembers, “so I built my own studio. It was one of those gigs in ’68 or ’69 that sparked the invention of the automatic mic mixer.” His first commercial success was the Dugan Speech System. Like many who break new ground, Dugan is modest about his contributions. “I was messing around with logarithmic level detection, seeing what would happen if I used the sum of all the inputs as a reference. That’s when I accidentally came upon the system. It was really discovered, not invented,” he says. “I didn’t really know what I had, just that it worked like gangbusters.” He licensed his invention to Altec.
Over the next 15 years, several other companies devised automatic mixing schemes of their own, and a market segment was created. “Of course I had patented the best way,” he says, “so a lot of the other products on the market didn’t work so well. As a result, automatic mixing got a bad reputation with some people.”
Asked for his perspective on the current crop of automatic mixers, he says, “The current trend in AV is to go into a DSP box. One thing I found amusing is that there’s a number of automatic mixers in the DSP boxes that are just boxes of gates with an NOM attenuator — and that was what didn’t work back in the ’70s! But yet here we are in the next century, and people are still calling a box of gates an automatic mixer.”
Dugan remains active in product design and runs Dan Dugan Sound Design out of his home in San Francisco. “Well, there isn’t any company, actually — it’s just me. I’m just a front for me,” he laughs.
Born in Portland, Ore., in 1933, Ray Dolby’s contributions to the AV industry are ubiquitous in the form of namesake noise reduction and surround sound systems. Dolby began his professional career while still in high school, starting at Ampex in 1949. Working part-time as he entered college, he made major contributions to the electronics of the first practical videotape recording system. In 1957, Dolby received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University and left Ampex to study at Cambridge University in England, where he earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1961.
It was while Dolby was recording traditional local music during a two-year assignment as a United Nations technical advisor in India that he had the initial idea for a noise-reduction system to combat tape hiss. Upon his return to England in 1965, he established Dolby Laboratories. The original Dolby system, now known as Dolby A-type, routs the audio through a switchless, knobless encoder (essentially, a gentle compressor) as it is recorded. On playback, the audio goes through a mirror-image decoder, dramatically reducing background noise and tape hiss without negative side effects. The first major adopter of the Dolby system was Decca Records in 1966, followed soon after by labels like RCA, MCA, and CBS.
Over the years, the system was expanded. The B-type and C-type systems were so effective that, in combination with advances in tape formulations, the lowly audiocassette was transformed into a high-fidelity music system. But, like all successful inventions, the true genius was in the implementation. First, the system was switchable, so that both Dolby-encoded and non-Dolby source material could be played on the same machine. In addition, Dolby kept licensing fees to an absolute minimum, greatly reducing the temptation to pirate the design to avoid royalties. As a consequence, Dolby noise reduction was adopted by virtually every major audio manufacturer.
But Ray Dolby didn’t stop there. Dolby sound was adapted for the theater market, making its debut in the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Dolby Stereo was developed for the film market, incorporating surround channels for a more compelling viewing experience. With a wide variety of digital surround production formats now available, the Dolby mark has become synonymous with high-quality audio in music, film, broadcast, and home entertainment.
As holder of more than 50 patents, Ray Dolby has received countless honors, including Grammy, Oscar, and Emmy awards. He was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004, is an honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), and was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Technology by President Clinton. He resides in the San Francisco area and remains chairman of the board at Dolby Laboratories there.