As the small screens of phones and tablets increasingly become our theatres for movies, music, sports, and games, sound plays a vitally important role in ensuring that the content retains the emotional depth that makes it effective.

That was the message of participants in a Mobile World Congress panel discussion on the future of mobile entertainment hosted by Dolby in Barcelona. Moderated by Derek Kerton, a telecom analyst at GigaOm Research and chairman of the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley, the panel included a filmmaker, mobile industry executives, and Dolby leaders.

“As a storyteller, I want to create an experience for the audience and create emotion,” said Sam Raimi, the director of hit movies such as Oz the Great and Powerful, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3. Doing that is harder when a movie is viewed on the tiny screen of a cell phone, but improving sound quality on mobile devices will make a big difference.

“Sound is invisible, so we don’t know what we’re missing. As long as we hear the dialogue, we think that’s all there is. But you miss so much,” Raimi said. “When lovers kiss onscreen and you can hear that separated choir track, it makes you feel hope. When the soldiers are marching on burnt ground, and you bring up a subwoofer and a hum, it makes you feel that something terrible has happened in this place.”

Emotion is paramount

“It is emotion that drives attention,” said John Couling, Senior Vice President of E-Media at Dolby. “For those who care about sport, they have a strong emotional connection to the team and sport.” More important to the mobile industry than building faster processors or providing more bandwidth is recreating that emotion. “That’s what drives people’s businesses,” Couling said.

From left to right, film director Sam Raimi, Dolby SVP John Couling, Anton Gauffin of Gamelion, Paul Torres of Qualcomm, JH Kah of SK Planet International, Michel Messina of Telefonica Digital, and Derek Kerton of GigaOm at a Dolby panel on the future of mobile entertainment at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

From left to right, film director Sam Raimi, Dolby SVP John Couling, Anton Gauffin of Gamelion, Paul Torres of Qualcomm, JH Kah of SK Planet International, Michel Messina of Telefonica Digital, and Derek Kerton of GigaOm at a Dolby panel on the future of mobile entertainment at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

People in the game industry used to believe that people often played mobile games with the sound turned off, said Anton Gauffin, the founder of mobile game company Gamelion. But research found that 70 percent of games are played with the audio on. “In games, you need to help the user immediately get into a world, and you do that with audio,” Gauffin said. “The games that succeed on that plane make fortunes.”

Mobile entertainment hubs

The role of phones and tablets as the entertainment hubs of many people’s lives is clear to leaders in the mobile industry.

“We’re looking at it from a consumer perspective,” said JH Kah, President of SK Planet International, an online and mobile service platform. “What do people want to do with their mobile phones? Watch premium content? Sure. More UGC [user-generated content]? Great.”

When consumers pay for a service, they want to be able to watch it on any of their devices, said Michel Messina, New Media Director of Telefónica Digital, the digital services and innovation arm of Spanish provider Telefónica. That requires some flexibility in licensing content. “I can’t predict which devices they’ll use, especially because technology moves so fast.”

“If you see the way content is consumed, you know the trend [toward mobile entertainment] is going to continue,” said Paul Torres, Director of Product Management at Qualcomm. The challenge is delivering the kind of experience you get in theatres to mobile devices, he said. The only way to do it is to involve everyone who produces and delivers content.

Using science to advance art

Dolby is applying its knowledge of the science of sight and sound to help produce truly compelling entertainment on mobile devices, said Bob Borchers, Chief Marketing Officer at Dolby.

“Our goal as technologists is to preserve and present an uncompromised experience,” Borchers said. “We think about mobile as a new canvas to be able to paint on, and our job is to give creators as many crayons and paints as possible to use on that canvas.”

But it’s not enough to give creators great tools. Dolby also works with service providers to ensure that they can deliver great content efficiently. And we work with hardware makers to create great experiences, like surround sound audio with sounds that even play over your head.

“The most successful companies understand how art and science come together,” Borchers said. “It is not perfect yet. But what we do well at Dolby is stitch all these elements together and deliver a great experience.”

You can see the full presentation from Barcelona in the video below.

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