Is that a smartphone on your belt or a moon lander? The average cell phone now has more computing power than it took NASA to launch and maintain the historic 1969 moon landing. Some of that raw computing power is consumed launching Angry Birds instead of rocket boosters.

But manufacturers are increasingly aware that mobile users like you rely on phones as a primary source of news, social media, and audio and video entertainment.

Dozens of platforms, thousands of devices, millions of choices

Mobile music and video have exploded with the proliferation of online media outlets, the widespread availability of 4G/LTE networks, and consumers’ use of cloud-based services to store their media content. As a consequence, music and video producers must support a bewildering array of platforms, devices, and device capabilities.

Add in various video streaming standards, digital rights management (DRM) technologies, the UltraViolet™ platform, and compatibility issues with living-room devices, and the world becomes even more complex for content providers.

Meanwhile, manufacturers wrestle with a wide range of problems when attempting to play back quality audio. Along with service providers, they have to try to anticipate a wide range of file formats—and service providers have to anticipate different playback devices when they deliver content.

The convergence of the industry’s best efforts can result in:

  • Varying content quality. If you’ve ever played back video that you’ve captured on your cell phone or tablet, you’ve heard how flat and dull it can sometimes be.
  • Extreme volume variations. If content is not optimized for mobile delivery, you may turn up the sound to hear a stretch of dialogue, only to have your ears assaulted with a burst of music in the next scene.
  • Inadequate hardware. You turn up the sound to maximum to hear your favorite tune or dialogue in movies, only to get distortion, tinny treble, and rattling from the device’s small speakers and underpowered sound-delivery system.
  • Flattened sound, muddy dialogue, and lost special effects. All of these leave you less engaged with the content than if you were listening to a full-fledged surround system.

The sounds of outer space, in the subway

There’s no sound in the vacuum of outer space. But those of us who are science-fiction fans want to hear it anyway—from booming galactic cruiser battles to the majestic swoosh of a ship’s warp drive.

Over the years, engineers at Dolby Laboratories have been working to solve these problems with industry partners. Elements of Dolby® Digital Plus™ technology such as Audio Optimizer, Volume Maximizer, and Audio Regulator specifically address these problems. They “protect” sound quality by compensating for limitations in the hardware—such as frequency playback and distortion caused by tiny mobile speakers—as well as compensating for inconsistent volume levels in content.

Subway commuters, rejoice. You can hear the difference in online demos.

How about you? What do you most notice about listening to content on your mobile device?