Did you know you might not have to worry about running out of battery life when you’re watching a movie on your smartphone—and that it’s going to sound a whole lot better, too?

Dolby and Qualcomm are collaborating to help smartphone and tablet makers bring great Dolby® sound to mobile entertainment. It’s a sound-meets-silicon story.

We asked Raj Talluri and John Couling about the impact of integrating Dolby technology in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon™ processors. Raj Talluri is Senior Vice President of Product Management for Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. He’s responsible for managing Qualcomm Technologies’ applications processor technologies and wired connectivity solutions for the company’s chipset platforms. As Dolby’s Senior Vice President of E-Media, John Couling leads the global team charged with bringing Dolby’s advances in the science of sight and sound to the world of connected devices and content services.

Lab Notes: Why did Qualcomm and Dolby choose to work together?

Raj Talluri (RT): Sound is an essential part of all great entertainment. Surround sound playback goes hand-in-hand with HD content and is widely supported in streaming and download services today. We knew that together, we could bring Dolby’s premium experience in movie theatres and in the home to the mobile space, thanks to the power of the Hexagon DSP in our Snapdragon processors.

This is a pairing between companies that really understand their domains, and plays to each of our strengths: Dolby knows how to make the dialogue easy to understand, get surround sound in your headphones, and make the tiny loudspeakers—like those typically found in mobile devices—sound big. Qualcomm provides the scale and power efficiency necessary to bring this technology to a very wide range of smart devices.

We are fully engaged in our collaboration with Dolby and will continue to look to the future for more opportunities to combine each of our strengths—and to leverage these strengths in our processor portfolio and cutting-edge innovation strategies. Together, we have made a concerted effort to enable Dolby sound across our portfolio, from the Snapdragon S4 processors to the latest Dolby technology in the Snapdragon 800.

John Couling (JC): Early in our discussions with Qualcomm, we found we shared the same vision and desire to deliver an outstanding mobile experience. Qualcomm, as the leader in mobile processor innovation, was able to bring the integrated computing power we needed to be able to run the best-performing audio technologies we had in our development labs.

We always knew we could make consumers rethink their expectations of the audio quality of handheld devices.

With Qualcomm, we can deliver the benefits of our mobile technologies—including making the volume consistent even as consumers switch between different content—all without compromising battery life, manufacturer development schedules, or device costs.

Lab Notes: Why is audio important to the mobile entertainment experience?

RT: Sound is key to providing the home-theater-on-the-go experience. There is academic research showing how sound affects people’s perceptions of video quality: If it sounds better, people think it looks better, too. With the Snapdragon 800 series, you can watch 4K Ultra HD video with 7.1 surround sound at home, and then take that experience with you wherever you go.

Our Snapdragon processors allow devices to do much more than let people watch movies and listen to music. They excel at graphics and gaming, which is one of the reasons we have our own GPU and CPU designs: Adreno and Krait, respectively. Surround sound is also core to gaming.

There’s an example from GDC [Game Developers Conference] a few years ago, about a racing game where lap times improved from one build to the next, and the only difference was that they added audio to the test build. Sound helped indicate tire traction and shift times, and that’s a simple example of how audio helps games.

When you take that experience with you on the go, you still want the same audio that you’d hear in surround at home, and we can enable that with Snapdragon processors.

JC: A famous film director once said that sound is half the experience. He was talking about sound in the cinema, but I think this holds true whether you are in a movie theatre, watching TV at home, or playing a game on your smartphone.

Sound can put you in the middle of the action, create a sense of time and place, and set the emotional tone.

It is also less expensive to invest in good sound than it is to invest in better video quality, and as previously mentioned, research shows that if it sounds better, people think it looks better, too.

Lab Notes: What was the biggest surprise about working together? What have you learned or discovered that you didn’t know before you started collaborating?

RT: Dolby’s connection with the professionals and artists making films. We’re used to seeing the Dolby logo on DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, but Dolby works throughout the production chain with those who do the audio mix—all the way to working with digital download services. Dolby is connected to all of that, and has an impressive track record in making entertainment look and sound better.

Now we can work to bring that experience to hundreds of millions of people as they enjoy their movies, TV shows, and music on the go.

JC: Two things come to mind: First, realizing just how much faster manufacturers would be able to develop and launch mobile devices with Dolby sound once there was integration within the Qualcomm platform: all the benefits of Dolby with none of the engineering headaches! Thank you, Qualcomm.

And second, discovering just how much software work is done at Qualcomm to make the hardware silicon platforms easy to integrate.

Lab Notes: Dolby is known for having transformed movie sound, and the Oscars are now held at the Dolby Theatre. What is your favorite movie “sound moment”?

RT: I want to answer this question a couple of ways, so the list is a little long. First are the movies that use sound and music to create an overall feel and emotion to a movie:

  • WALL-E: Nominated for an Academy Award for sound, WALL-E did a fantastic job of telling a story solely through visuals and sound. For the first half of the movie, that’s all you have, and they did it just perfectly.
  • Brave: I took my family to see Brave specifically at a Dolby Atmos theatre to hear what the next-gen mobile experience will be. I distinctly remember when it was raining in the movie, and you could hear the raindrops falling on the top of the theatre. I even looked up at one point! This is going to be a hard experience to bring to the home with surround sound systems, but is well suited for headphone playback. We only have two years, so with sufficient horsepower, this is something we can replicate over headphones—and Snapdragon processors have the processing power to get us there.
  • Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace: You can’t think of Star Wars without hearing lightsabers clashing, the sound of a TIE fighter overhead, and other sounds clearly reinforcing the visuals. Sound and image are tightly coupled, all while you have that famous score playing, connecting various themes across both trilogies. Star Wars also serves as a good segue to the other sound moments, and a more direct answer to the question regarding the iconic moments in film where you can’t separate the imagery from the sound. The moment that popped up instantly was the beginning of the Duel of the Fates—and hearing the doors slide open to reveal Darth Maul. The music slowly builds until the lightsabers turn on and the duel begins, and you hear them clash. I waited almost 15 years for that.
  • Jurassic Park: The scene where you can see the water cup ripple with the thump of footsteps, while surrounded by the sound of rain falling on the car.
  • Say Anything: With Valentine’s Day just past, I’d be remiss not to mention one of my wife’s favorite films. Everyone remembers John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, holding the boom box above his head playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” But when you watch the scene, it starts with Diane in bed tossing and turning. All you hear are the sheets rustling, crickets in the background, and her frustration, and then slowly in the background the song begins to play. Then the scene transitions to the now-famous image and the music envelops the audience. That transition happens a couple of times, and sound helps tell that story and bring emotional impact to the film.

JC: I have two.

One is in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the scene where Pierce Brosnan is driving the remote-controlled BMW. I was on the soundstage when that scene was being mixed at Pinewood Studios, and watching the team fit so much audio action into that sequence was amazing to see.

The other is in The Matrix. This movie won an Academy Award for sound, and it’s easy to hear why.

This soundtrack has much greater subtlety than you would expect for an action film. The different soundscapes that switch you between the two worlds is really well done, and the use of quiet to add more punch to the action is a real “quiet before the storm” effect.