Sound in the cinema

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Under sound in cinema , the electro-acoustic playback of image-synchronous to the movie playing audio signals from the various loudspeaker systems understood. This rendition has changed and evolved tremendously since it was first launched in the 1910s. Since then, sound formats and standards have changed and digital technology is finding its way into cinemas around the world.


The beginning of the demonstration of moving images begins in 1892, when Émile Reynaud presented images on film strips with his “Optical Theater” and shortly afterwards with Edison'sKinetoskop ”. The patenting of the cinematograph in 1895 marked the official beginning of the cinema. The silent film was accompanied by music. The first sound films followed in the 1920s. For this purpose, suitable cinemas, often referred to as film theaters, were equipped with new technology around 1930. Almost 100 years after the film began, digital surround sound finally came into play .

At the beginning, pianists accompanied the cinematographic performances. The accompaniment of the then short picture sequences by musicians resulted in entertainment value, but not a reproducible, but often an individual interpretation. It was expensive and consistent or even synchronous sound was not reproduced. To add the sound to the picture, pianos , pianolas , gramophones or the mechanical music of the cinema organ were used, and film counters or explanations provided the context of the content. With a large stage and a large number of seats, large film theaters afforded entire bands that played for the screening. Inevitably it was music that was more or less appropriate to the film and not a sound accompaniment to the images. On the other hand, the film without sound required artistic forms of pantomime in its development . Marked Charlie Chaplin talking movies pejoratively as "talking film". "[...] suggesting that in the early days the recording and reproduction of spoken language (especially dialogues) had a high level of attention."

As with every new technology, there have been various attempts to combine the "moving image" with suitable and reproduced sound. Right from the start of the demonstrations of moving images, there was a desire to combine the sequence of images with a synchronous sound. One of the first attempts was needle-tone films by the French company Gaumont , whereby the sound is generated by a mechanical-electromagnetic record scanning. Devices based on the principle of Oskar Messter's “sound images ” were called “ biophones ” . Messter performed this form for the first time on August 29, 1903 in the Apollo Theater in Berlin. The French company Gaumont patented Leon Gaumont's process on July 1, 1901. The Chronophon sound system, introduced on November 7, 1902, used a record player that was synchronously coupled with the film projector. The “phonoscènes” by Gaumont, like the “sound images” by Oskar Messter, mostly showed scenes from opera, variety shows or theater. The records or cylinders for the sound only played three to five minutes and the films could not be longer. After the discovery of mechanical sound recording in 1913, Edison enabled another step in the direction of synchronization with his "Kinetophon". In 1922, turntables synchronized with motors (sound-on-disc) represented a further step after the invention of electro-acoustic playback. In Russia, performances by Yiddish traveling troops were filmed and often supplemented by live declamations in the cinema. The engineer Lee De Forest began in 1919 with the direction of the light sound for the sound of cinema halls. DeForest Phonofilm , founded in November 1922, presented the first workable sound film system and between 1923 and 1925 equipped more than 30 cinemas with the appropriate technical equipment. The German inventor group "Triergon" worked on the light tone. With the further development of electrical engineering , the first optical tone processes in rung (variable density) and serrated script (variable area) were developed, which were initially inferior to needle tone in quality, but largely corresponded to the optical tone still used centrally on all films.

The visionary Walt Disney was 30 to 40 years ahead of his time with “ Fantasia ” and the sound format “Fantasound” used on it. He achieved a stereo format in which the channels left, center and right were reproduced on an additional film. However, this “sound format” remained an isolated case. It was not until the 1950s that further attempts were made with multi-channel technology. Magnetic sound recording came on the market in the form of tapes adhered to the film. These ventures failed because of the high technical effort, the lack of standardized formats and the much too fragile magnetic storage on film.

“The sound film era began in 1927 when Warner Bros. released“ The Jazz Singer ”in theaters. The unexpected success of the film meant that cinemas around the world were converted to sound film machines over the next few years. “For a long time, the sound in the cinema was mono and in the form of optical sound combined with the image on the film. The proportion of interference signals was relatively high and the dynamics were correspondingly low. Ray Dolby developed noise reduction as Dolby A in 1965 and successfully brought it to theaters in 1970. This decisively influenced the further development of cinema sound. In 1975, “ Dolby Stereo ” appeared in the left, center, right and mono-surround tracks and achieved its breakthrough in 1977 with Star Wars , which has since replaced the mono light tone. The standard was created, but this did not lead to the same sound experience everywhere. In 1982, George Lucas developed the THX seal of approval for the cinema halls, with which electrical and building acoustics requirements were to be ensured. 1986 Dolby brought the noise suppression on the production and playback side with the standard " Dolby SR " (Spectral Recording) to the level of the analog light tone.

The digital age of cinema sound began in 1990 with a flop from CDS , who wanted to completely replace analog sound with an expensive digital system. However, the way was cleared for the digital format, which was brought onto the film parallel to the existing analogue light sound: the system - " Dolby Digital ". Not only was it possible to reproduce surround sound with 100% channel separation, but a sound format was created which was designed for a specific, optical sound-compatible arrangement of the loudspeakers and which represented a new standard in cinemas. Dolby did this exceptionally well in comparison to the good competing systems DTS and SDDS ( Sony ), which appeared in 1993 .

Sound in the cinema up to date


With the beginning of the 21st century, real sound formats were common in cinemas: Mono, two-channel stereo, Dolby Stereo, Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital (Dolby SRD), DTS, 70mm / 6-channel magnetic sound and SDDS. The four current sound formats (Dolby, Dolby Digital, DTS [time code track], SDDS) can be played simultaneously on one and the same optical sound negative. Cinemas must be equipped with the remaining standard sound systems and, especially as a THX certified cinema, operate a technical system that should not be underestimated. The standard for use on newly produced films is Dolby in the form of the light tone Dolby SR and Dolby Digital including Dolby Digital EX . DTS competes with Dolby Digital with the advantage of internationally consistent film copies, since the sound is produced and distributed on a separate CD-ROM, but not in proportion to the standard Dolby Digital.

  • The light tone in Dolby SR , which contains a surround sound encoded signal.
  • Dolby Digital , with which up to seven channels can be transmitted with 100% channel separation (cross-talk-free).
  • DTS , which differs from Dolby Digital only in the type of playback system ( time code on film, audio on CD-ROM ) and the lower data compression of the format. Speaker arrangements and the number of channels are the same as Dolby Digital.
  • The SDDS format developed by Sony requires major interventions in the periphery and the speaker placement. The fundamental difference here are two additional loudspeakers behind the screen, each between the center and right and left. In contrast to DTS, where the required decoder can be connected to the existing cinema processor, this is not possible with SDDS. So for an SDDS decoder, an SDDS cinema processor is always required (mostly combined), which, with its large number of channels, forms a subsequent level to existing cinema processors. Sony has meanwhile stopped the production and sale of SDDS equipment and will only maintain the service until 2014.
Sound signal flow in “analog” cinema today


However, the digital formats have a decisive disadvantage compared to the "simple", analog light tone. They are extremely dependent on the correct reading of the information exposed on film. Too high error rates lead to complete failure of the digital sound and require switching to the analog light sound. Experience in the movie theaters also shows that the SDDS and especially DTS formats are much more stable with poor copies than is the case with Dolby Digital.

In order to avoid copies, the individual chapters that make up films are usually produced in different copier units. Therefore the quality is different. If a presenter notices a risky high error rate of the digital soundtrack when checking the film for the first time, which can cause permanent switching from digital to optical sound, he switches to constant analogue optical sound to be on the safe side. This failure rate can reach up to 30% depending on the copy quality. However, this also means that up to a third of all films with digital surround sound can only be shown in Dolby SR.

As long as digital formats have to be read with the help of mechanical devices and from exposed film as an information carrier, this problem can hardly be reduced. The development in this sector has already passed its peak and further advances in digital cinema will probably solve these problems of the past.

The sound in the cinema of the future

The digital cinema offers many new possibilities in terms of the sound. The biggest problem for the DCI ( Digital Cinema Initiatives ) so far has been the definition of a standard for the formats of picture and sound. This was officially presented and published at the end of July 2005. 16 channels in "high definition" resolution are considered and provided for the sound. In terms of dynamics and number of channels, this exceeds all previous formats by far. Many companies are interested in the development of picture and sound systems for the digital cinema of the future and are trying to develop products that are as innovative as possible.

The German Fraunhofer Society as an institute in the field of sound has converted a technology from theory to practice and founded the company " Iosono " in a cooperation . This produces, sells and installs sound systems that are based on the principle of wave field synthesis and thus offer completely new possibilities in the spatial mapping and positioning of sound sources. In addition, this system should be fully compatible with the existing sound formats and improve the playback via this new system in terms of the optimal listening position.

The extent to which sound will develop in the cinema and to what extent new, possibly technically complex standards will develop, remains dependent on demand. Cinemas want to be clear differentiators to home cinema and also pursue commercial goals. What ultimately attracts people to the cinema is determined by the number of visitors.


  • Joachim Polzer (Hrsg.): On the history of the film copy work. Series: Weltwunder der Cinematographie, 8th edition, 2006, ISBN 3-934535-26-7 .
  • Joachim Polzer (Ed.): The rise and fall of the sound film. Series: Weltwunder der Cinematographie, 6th edition, Polzer Media Group, Potsdam 2002, ISBN 3-934535-20-8 .
  • Joachim Polzer (Ed.): SOUND - The sound in the cinema. Series: Weltwunder der Kinematographie, 3rd edition, Verlag der DGFK Berlin 1996.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. From the cinema to the slipper cinema: “If the film didn't offer enough entertainment, heckling of all kinds made for a nice evening. Not infrequently to the annoyance of the cinema owners, who had to change half the rows of seats after particularly turbulent performances. Perhaps in order to master the entertainers in the audience, the music was added, the man at the piano, a mixed trio, at the end small orchestras sat in front of the flickering pictures. "
  2. compare cinema data in the Kino Wiki
  3. Lexicon of Film Terms: Speech Film , Institute for Modern German Literature and Media, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel , accessed July 4, 2016
  4. Compare the keyword “cinematographs” in the commercial section of the Berlin address book 1905: Kinomatographen . In: Berliner Adreßbuch , 1905, part IV, p. 163. “Deutsche Bioscope Gesellschaft, Lubis Cinegraph, Messters projection, Pathé Frères”.
  5. Lexicon of Film Terms: Nadelton , Institute for Modern German Literature and Media, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel , accessed July 4, 2016
  6. ^ "Biophon" in the Lexicon of Film Terms , Institute for Modern German Literature and Media, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, accessed July 4, 2016
  7. “Edison also had the first considerations to operate loudspeakers by means of the compression of air. The first patent was issued to Edison in 1878. The two Englishmen Horace Short, who developed the process (patents 1898 and 1901), and the industrialist Sir Charles A. Parsons, who bought the process and developed it from 1903, and sold it from 1906 for the pneumatic amplification of musical instruments and gramophones, called it from System Auxetophone developed them. ”According to: Auxetophon in the Lexicon of Filmbegriffe , Institute for Modern German Literature and Media, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, accessed July 4, 2016
  8. ^ Lexicon of film terms: Kino-Deklamazije , Institute for Modern German Literature and Media, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, accessed July 4, 2016
  9. Lexicon of Film Terms: Triergon Procedure , Institute for Modern German Literature and Media, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, accessed July 4, 2016
  10. ^ "Fantasound" in the dictionary of film terms , Institute for Modern German Literature and Media, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, accessed July 4, 2016
  11. ^ Lexicon of film terms: sound film
  12. Lexicon of film terms: sound formats / sound systems