An Australian Apple Patent Describes a Smart Multi-Speaker Audio System Designed for TV Live Streaming
Today Patently Apple discovered a patent application from Apple that relates to a smart audio system that is far more elaborate than Apple's new HomePod that is configurable to output audio beams representing channels for one or more pieces of sound program content into separate zones based on the positioning of users, audio sources, and/or speaker arrays. This latest audio system is designed to work with a television and/or Apple TV box that is capable of live streaming content like Apple Music, events and other content. Some of the audio team that worked on one of Apple's recently discovered HomePod patents are listed on this new patent that was filed in Australia and published on July 20, 2017.
Speaker arrays may reproduce pieces of sound program content to a user through the use of one or more audio beams. For example, a set of speaker arrays may reproduce front left, front center, and front right channels for a piece of sound program content (e.g., a musical composition or an audio track for a movie). Although speaker arrays provide a wide degree of customization through the production of audio beams, conventional speaker array systems must be manually configured each time a new speaker array is added to the system, a speaker array is moved within a listening environment/area, an audio source is added/changed, or any other change is made to the listening environment. This requirement for manual configuration may be burdensome and inconvenient as the listening environment continually changes (e.g., speaker arrays are added to a listening environment or are moved to new locations within the listening environment). Further, these conventional systems are limited to playback of a single piece of sound program content through the single set of speaker arrays.
Apple's Proposed Audio System
According to a first aspect of the invention there is provided a method for driving speaker arrays, comprising: receiving one or more pieces of sound program content associated with one or more audio sources within an audio system, wherein each piece of sound program content is designated to be played in one zone of a plurality of zones within a listening area; determining parameters describing the zones and the audio system; generating one or more sets of audio beam pattern attributes based on the determined parameters for the zones and the audio system; and driving corresponding speaker arrays of the audio system with the one or more sets of audio beam pattern attributes such that audio beams corresponding to one or more channels of the one or more pieces of sound program content are played in corresponding zones in the listening area.
According to a second aspect of the invention there is provided a computing device for driving speaker arrays, comprising: an interface for receiving one or more pieces of sound program content associated with one or more audio sources within an audio system, wherein each piece of sound program content is designated to be played by the audio system in one zone of a plurality of zones within a listening area; a hardware processor; and a memory unit for storing instructions, which when executed by the hardware processor: determine parameters describing the zones and the audio system; generate one or more sets of audio beam pattern attributes based on the determined parameters for the zones and the audio system; and generate one or more drive signals for driving corresponding speaker arrays of the audio system with the one or more sets of audio beam pattern attributes such that audio beams corresponding to one or more channels of the one or more pieces of sound program content are played in corresponding zones in the listening area.
The audio system also includes one or more speaker arrays that emit sound corresponding to one or more pieces of sound program content into associated zones within a listening area. In one embodiment, the zones correspond to areas within the listening area in which associated pieces of sound program content are designated to be played within. For example, a first zone may be defined as an area where multiple users are situated in front of a first audio source (e.g., a television). In this case, the sound program content produced and/or received by the first audio source is associated with and played back into the first zone. Continuing on this example, a second zone may be defined as an area where a single user is situated proximate to a second audio source (e.g., a radio). In this case, the sound program content produced and/or received by the second audio source is associated with the second zone.
Apple notes that in one embodiment, the audio source 103A (television) may include an interface for communicating with the speaker arrays 105 or other devices (e.g., remote audio/video streaming services). The interface may utilize wired mediums (e.g., conduit or wire) to communicate with the speaker arrays. In another embodiment, the interface may communicate with the speaker arrays through a wireless connection as shown in Figure 1A and Figure 1B. For example, the network interface may utilize one or more wireless protocols and standards for communicating with the speaker arrays including the IEEE 802.11 suite of standards, cellular Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standards, cellular Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) standards, Long Term Evolution (LTE) standards, and/or Bluetooth standards.
Side View of a Speaker Array
Overhead View of a Speaker Array
In respect to Apple's patent FIG. 3B, they note that the transducers #109 may be any combination of full-range drivers, mid-range drivers, subwoofers, woofers, and tweeters. Each of the transducers may use a lightweight diaphragm, or cone, connected to a rigid basket, or frame, via a flexible suspension that constrains a coil of wire (e.g., a voice coil) to move axially through a cylindrical magnetic gap. When an electrical audio signal is applied to the voice coil, a magnetic field is created by the electric current in the voice coil, making it a variable electromagnet.
The coil and the transducers' magnetic system interact, generating a mechanical force that causes the coil (and thus, the attached cone) to move back and forth, thereby reproducing sound under the control of the applied electrical audio signal coming from an audio source, such as the audio source 103A [a TV shown in FIG. 1A above].
Apple's patent Figure 9B presented below illustrates an overhead view of the listening area with beams produced for two zones; in Figure 6 Apple shows us a method for driving one or more speaker arrays to generate sound for one or more zones in the listening area based on one or more pieces of sound program content.
Apple's patent Figure 7 noted above shows a component diagram of a rendering strategy unit; Figure 8 shows beam attributes used to generate beams in separate zones of the listening area.
Apple's patent application that was published in Australia on July 20, 2017 showed up in the European Patent Office this week where I first discovered it. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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