Nokia N8 & Dolby Mobile hands-on

We've shown you pics of the forthcoming Nokia N8 before, and discussed a few of its features, but one area that strikes the Symbian^3 handset apart from other smartphones, including the iPhone 4, is its stunning audio playback talent. And Pocket-lint managed to get down and dirty with that aspect of the forthcoming phone, for almost an hour.

Whether it be through headphones, the mono speaker, or outputted to a HDTV via the HDMI socket, the audio quality is several steps above what we've experienced. And that's primarily down to Dolby Mobile and the handset's use of Dolby Digital Plus.

Dolby Mobile is a collection of technologies from Dolby Laboratories Inc that, when added together, afford numerous benefits to music and, more impressively, video files. There are systems in place that equalise audio tracks so that they are of a constant volume. Another, Mobile Surround, creates fully rounded pseudo surround sound in a normal set of headphones or earbuds. And, Sound Space Expander enhances the width of the soundstage when connected to conventional stereo speakers.

However, it is its inclusion of Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 for video and, potentially, music that has got the Pocket-lint team "ooo-ing" and "aah-ing".

Hook the Nokia N8 up to a TV through the mini HDMI lead and you can play 720p video with a full 5.1 soundtrack on the big screen. Dolby supplies developers with the software to encode the files, which uses generic video compressors and proprietary audio codecs, and the results are quite spectacular.

During the demo, Pocket-lint was treated to 720p HD clips from both Kung Fu Panda and the forthcoming Tron: Legacy. Both were played on a Nokia N8 with a beta version of the Symbian^3 operating system, which was hooked up to a normal high-def flatscreen LCD TV. The result was stunning. Not only was the picture quality crisp, with no overt artefacts, but the spacial surround effect was booming, precise and spine-tingling. And that's from a mobile phone...

For the number crunchers out there, Jonathan Jowitt, Dolby's senior manager, Technical Marketing, told us that the clip was running at "2 Megabits per second" with "256 Mbps in the audio stream". File sizes come in at "1GB for every linear hour of video".

We were also treated to a 5.1 mix of a music track by Faithless, although Andy Dowell, sales director, EMEA, did stress that this may never reach the market: "I'm not saying that Faithless is releasing this track, but they have mixed it in 5.1", he told Pocket-lint.

"They came to us", he also revealed. "Dolby didn't knock on their door",

Indeed, it seems that, with the ability to output 5.1 crisp audio from a mobile device, it has reinvigorated interest in multichannel music from a few of the major studios. After the failure of DVD-Audio and SACD, could the humble mobile phone be the route to bring 5.1 music to the masses?

"The is a whole new argument for [the studios]. It opens up the possibility again", he said.

Certainly, in our experience, Dolby Digital Plus on the Nokia N8 provides compelling evidence.



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