Audio Museum

I expect myriad museums on any touring vacation. However, I did not expect to see a highly relevant museum before I even left the country for my trip. At San Francisco International airport, there is a History of Audio museum exhibit sponsored by Dolby in terminal 3. Countless people have to walk by it on their way to and from flights but few people probably ever get a chance to study it (nor do they care, I imagine). Fortunately, I had loads of time to spare and made plenty of notes about things I wanted to look up later.

The exhibit features many artifacts from the history of audio recording. Two artifacts that stand out for the codec nerd are the hardware AC-1 encoder and decoder (2 separate units). AC-1? That’s right, AC-1. We all know of AC-3. The only reference I have ever seen for AC-2 is in the master Microsoft audio codec list (AC-2 has a wave format assignment of 0x0030). This is the first I have ever heard of AC-1. The specific hardware was the Scientific-Atlanta 97085 AC-1 enabled satellite receiver and the Dolby Model DP80 encoder, both from the year 1985.

Perhaps the strangest artifact was the Highway Hi-fi— an in-dash phonograph player that handles 45 RPM records. The exhibit didn’t actually have one of these specimens; the best they could do was an old advertisement featuring Lawrence Welk.

Further along on portable personal entertainment, the exhibit had a Toshiba portable MP3/AAC player claiming to be from the year 1997. This surprised me because I always thought that the Diamond Rio was the first. Perhaps it was only the first in the U.S. and the Toshiba model was available in Japan. There was also a representative sample of the legendary (which must have been their adjective, copied into my notes) Nagra portable.

I saw something called a Cartrivision cassette with a Fisher-Price logo on it, leading me to believe that FP was at one time into consumer electronics. Maybe, maybe not. They might not have actually made them, just branded them.

There were representative samples of gaming systems and games from various epochs. The last gen was well-represented since it’s so recent. Other random games showcased were King Arthur’s World (SNES) as well as 2 TurboGrafx-CD games. I took down the title of one as The Atlas [Atlus?]: Ron Voyage to which I can find no reference on the internet. The other one was Japanese and looked like an SNK fighting game but had a Hudson bee logo.

Getting into the movie side of things, my notes indicate that one of the exhibits had a remarkable replica of a Star Wars Y-Wing starfighter. That sort of thing always stands out for me. It turns out that Apocalypse Now was the first movie in 5.1 surround sound.

Cinema Digital Sound (CDS) was discussed and Dick Tracy was mentioned as the first film to use it.

The exhibit had a laptop with a static screenshot of a piece of software known as Dolby Show Manager. From the look of it, the software is used in digital theaters to schedule the main movie feature as well as commercials, trailers, everything.

Finally, perhaps the most well-specified — yet still mysterious — artifact I encountered was a hard drive that contains the first “DD-Cinema film”. I’m not sure what DD-Cinema is exactly. The HD listed a date of 2004 and had the following specs: “San Jose version, 2.39:1 unsqueezed 1920×803 letterbox, P3 color space, 5.1 surround EX ePCM, encrypted 100 Mbps, packaged for sys 1.0.4”. That’s all I know. It didn’t even indicate what the movie was.

The only other notable bit of multimedia from my trip was at the Beethoven Haus in Bonn, Germany. There is a studio with many specially configured PCs for studying Beethoven’s music. A firefox web browser is the primary vehicle for this. At some points, it would launch an external program for playing RealAudio or MP3 files. What did it use? Why, it’s Media Player Classic, v6.4.8.2. Particularly nifty, though, was being able to follow along with the music on original sheet music showcased through Flash. It all got me to thinking about music notation in the context of information coding theory.

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