Cinema Sound History
1889 — Kinetoscope: How it all began
The modern motion picture industry finds its origins with the invention of the Kinetoscope in 1889. Located in select parlors, these devices featured unique twenty second film shorts. An infatuated public would move from Kinetoscope to Kinetoscope to witness these short films. Despite the fact that the Kinetoscope made it possible for the public to view the moving image, it was designed solely for the individual viewer. In the near future, motion pictures would be projected to mass audiences in silent format in direct competition with radio entertainment.
1926 — Vitaphone: End of the silent era
The introduction of sound with film completely altered industry norms and shocked movie-going audiences as the Vitaphone was introduced to the market in conjunction with "Don Juan" and "The Jazz Singer." The transition to the "talking picture" lead to a complete overhaul of the entire motion picture industry. Though the Vitaphone brought sound to the moving picture, the separate sound-on-disc format was not without its problems. Often times, the wax-coated discs containing the soundtracks would get lost or separated from the films. During playback of the film, exhibitors often had difficulties keeping the sound in sync with the picture.
1928 — Sound-on-film
To solve the problems represented by a separate sound format, Hollywood soon transitioned to a direct sound-on-film placement, introduced by William Fox on his Movietone News reels. Soon, Westrex and RCA introduced their formats to the exhibition market making sound-on-film a standard industry convention. Despite innovations in movie sound, the motion picture experience was limited by the fact that films were shown in monaural sound. Audiences had yet to experience stereo sound.
1940s — Commercial Stereo Release
During the forties, studios began to experiment with reproducing more than one channel of sound in an auditorium. Disney's release of "Fantasia" marks the first such release as the film aired in select locations in multiple channels of sound. The sound design of "Fantasia" introduced the use of surround speakers as well as a three behind-the-screen channels of sound. Ironically, the basic three channel configuration of "Fantasound" does not differ substantially from that of a contemporary theatre and the home theatre.
1950 — Cinerama: Pursuit of a new dimension
During the early fifties, the film industry came into direct competition with television. In response, several wide gauge formats evolved to bring the audience closer to the action of the motion picture using stereophonic sound. Cinerama utilized a team of five engineers and projectionists operating three cameras to project a unified image across a movie screen. The system's developers also employed an optimal five channels of sound behind the screen with two surround channels to create greater depth for the motion picture.
1953 — Cinemascope
Due to its complexity, Cinerama did not take hold as an exhibition standard. Twentieth Century Fox launched Cinemascope heralded as 'the poor man's Cinerama' with the premiere of "The Robe" in 1953. Cinemascope differed from Cinerama in that it only had three sound channels behind the screen with a monaural surround. The four-track magnetic sound of Cinemascope met resistance from the exhibition community based on cost, forcing Fox to offer one-track Cinemascope release prints as well.
1955 — Todd-AO 70mm
With the release of "Oklahoma!" motion picture sound would again take a step forward with the Todd-AO 70mm format based on the sound design of Cinerama without the sound and picture compromises of Cinemascope. With 70mm, films were released in six discrete channels of sound, presented with five full channels of sound behind the screen. As a widescreen format, the five behind-the-screen channels ensured the delivery of full, rich sound across the entire length of the screen with a monaural surround channel.
1970s — 70mm
70mm was initially designed and marketed as a high-end product showcased in prime exhibition circles. It would come in and out of popularity over the next thirty years as a motion picture format with such releases as "Star Wars," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Apocalypse Now." As a sound format, 70mm was constrained by its maximum of six magnetic tracks on the film and its higher relative cost. As time passed, the industry would add stereo surrounds at the expense of two of the behind-the-screen channels. This gave birth to the 5.1 channel configuration. Though stereo surrounds allowed for a new creative freedom, the original five channels of sound behind the screen was noticeably missed.
1990s — Digital Sound
As the film industry came into competition with the rapidly advancing world of home entertainment, the industry turned to digital soundtracks to enhance the motion picture presentation. Digital sound systems were designed around the 5.1 channel configuration that has been adopted for home consumer use. In 1994, Sony Corporation took a different route in developing a digital sound system solely for the big screen.
1994 — Sony Dynamic Digital Sound
Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS) was introduced to the worldwide motion picture industry as the only theatrical eight channel sound format. SDDS provides a unique and uncompromised delivery of five behind-the-screen channels of sound, similar to the initial 70mm format, accompanied by a sub-woofer and stereo surrounds. This configuration was designed to raise cinema sound technology standards to create a cinematic environment that cannot be duplicated by a 5.1 channel home theatre.
2000 — Digital Cinema
March 6th, Christie Systems, Inc. announced today that it has been selected as the first OEM to manufacture digital cinema projectors using Texas Instruments DLP Cinema technology. The agreement will allow Christie to develop the Christie DigiPro series of digital projectors using DLP Cinema projection technology.
2009 — 3D Digital Cinema
After James Cameron's 3D film Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all time, 3D films have gained increasing popularity with many other films being released in 3D, with the best critical and financial successes being in the field of feature film animation such as DreamWorks Animation's How To Train Your Dragon and Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar's Toy Story 3. Avatar is also note-worthy for pioneering highly sophisticated use of motion capture technology and influencing several other films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes