BBC develops system to turn household objects like fridges into surround sound

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BBC programmes could be revolutionised by a new pilot project to turn everyday devices like smartphones and iPads into an instant surround sound systems at home. The corporation’s research and development arm is working on new technology which will give a similar effect to being at the cinema or a live concert.It could allow horror movie viewers to hear the sound of footsteps creeping up behind them, or nature lovers experience the sound of an animal running past on a documentary. Or it could even switch a programme to less scary sounds if a child is in the room. Although surround sound systems already exist for television, they are expensive and the BBC wanted to see if it was possible to mimic the effect using speakers already in household objects.The system could tap into audio enabled fridges, or electronic assistants like Alexa. It could even make lightbulbs flicker to simulate a storm. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. “I think some of the soundscapes that you get on Doctor Who would lend itself well. “We have each character coming from a different speaker so it sounds more like a real conversation in a room, you can imagine that for a panel show or a comedy.”The project is partly funded by the government’s research council and is a joint venture with the University of Surrey.Dr Philip Jackson of Surrey said it could also improve traditional audio dramas like The Archers.“Some of the things we are doing is with ambient sounds so if you happen to be out in the fields, or inside the dairy of the pub, you can help to create that atmosphere and you have the option to put spot effects, like the bleat of a sheep, or birds. “Sound has the power to draw you inside a story, to envelope you and to move you. “Without telling you to buy a load of new loudspeakers or how you should set out your living room, we’ve combined new audio technologies to make it easier for you to have more immersive experience at home.”The new technology can be trialled at The technology could work well with Doctor Who, the BBC said Credit:Sophie Mutevelian/PA Wire Dr Jon Francombe, of the BBC’s R&D department said: “This project is about giving people excellent sound experiences that are immersive [and] transportive in their living rooms.“If you look in most people’s living rooms there are lots of devices with loudspeakers, your telly has two built in, your mobile phone, your tablet, maybe there is a smart speaker in the corner, and games consoles and they are likely to be connected to the internet which means we can get a signal to them. “So we have spent a couple of years thinking about how can we harness the devices in the living room so we can use them to produce something better than the telly.“We’re adding to the immersive experience which you can’t get with just a pair or loud speakers in front of you.”Under the new scheme, viewers are able to pair their smartphone or tablet to a programme using a QR code and the technology then tells them where to place the device.The researchers say it will go one stage further than traditional surround sound by adding new noises or even commentary which would not be on the original programme. Users would also no longer need to be sitting directly in arc of speakers to get the best effect. “Wind and weather noises could be more surrounding, then we also use it for spot effects that we can position in the room and extra content,” added Dr Francombe. The first audio drama using the new technology – called The Vostok-K Incident – was launched at the British Science Festival which can be trialled on the BBC’s website using up to 20 devices at a time. If successful, the BBC wants to create new programmes using the technology and even retrofit old dramas. Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor (centre), Bradley Walsh as Graham (second right) and Mandip Gill as Yaz (first right)

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