It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got an iPad or an Asus Transformer or a Kindle Fire, your tablet speakers suck. But considering a tablet is a device generally only used by one person from a short distance away, most people don’t really notice or care. If you are one that does notice and does care, Dolby Digital Plus will try to do the best it can to make those shitty little tablet speakers sound a bit better.
Dolby Digital Plus for Tablets focuses on manipulating audio to behave more consistently regardless of its format or the speaker setup of the tablet in question: to combat distortion, the Volume Maximizer function turns up the audio but levels off high peaks, while the Audio Regulator feature compensates for distortion caused by speakers playing sound louder than they were designed to; to prevent constant volume adjustments, the Volume Leveler lets you set a master volume for content and then adjusts all of your media to play back at that volume; the Dialog Enhancer brings dialog out from the ambient noise to make it easier to hear, and so on. Other features, like the Surround Virtualizer and Surround Decoder, attempt to give audio more depth and better emulate a surround sound experience while listening to headphones or a tablet with stereo speakers, while still others focus on making ambient noise and other subtleties more audible, creating the “immersion” that Brennan mentioned.
The tablet used to demonstrate all of these effects was a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, a tablet that has been on the market for just over a year, and all of the media used in the demonstration were clips from older films and TV shows that, as far as I could tell, had been in no way doctored or altered for the sake of the demo—2004’s The Incredibles, the late 2000s Showtime drama The Tudors, and 2009’s Avatar. Brennan would first play the clips as they were without Dolby’s optimizations applied, and then play them again with the filters enabled.
Indeed, the Dolby filters seem to be performing as advertised: dialog was louder, ambient noises were more audible, and the separation between the different audio channels was more pronounced, though for the latter it should be noted that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 does use stereo speakers mounted on either side of the tablet, while the iPad and many other tablets use a single speaker, often mounted on the bottom or rear of the device. For tablets with speakers beyond saving, the optimizations also made a noticeable difference while listening with a pair of cheap over-the-ear headphones: with Dolby’s filters, sound effects had an added depth that they otherwise lacked.
The end result in each case was sound that, while still subject to the shortcomings of tinny, bass-less tablet speakers, was indeed markedly improved from the same audio without Dolby’s filters applied. However, there’s still a lot we don’t know, largely due to the controlled test environment: how do the filters work for devices like the iPad that use one speaker instead of two? How do they work for YouTube clips and other, less professionally produced content? The technology showed a lot of promise based on what I saw, but I’d still want to see it in the wild before declaring it a complete success.