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Dolby deepens ties with China, inspired by innovation, consumers

By LIA ZHU in Las Vegas | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-01-11 11:38

Gone are the days of simply offering technology. Immersive entertainment technology leader Dolby Laboratories is now actively co-creating innovations with Chinese brands, fueled by the country's fast-paced tech development and a discerning consumer base hungry for the best.

This shift is evident in Dolby's latest offerings, showcased at this week's CES in Las Vegas, with Dolby Atmos FlexConnect as a highlight. The technology is capable of seamlessly pairing wireless speakers with a TV's sound system, offering flexibility in speaker placement.

With Dolby Atmos FlexConnect, listeners no longer must think about channels for speakers or where the right spots are to set up speakers because once connected, the system intelligently optimizes the listening experience for any room layout and speaker setup.

It allows users to place a sound anywhere in the room and then translates that into a listening environment, according to the company.

Dolby's first partners to adopt the technology and bring it to global market are Chinese electronics brands Hisense and TCL. Their products, powered by Dolby Atmos FlexConnect, are on display at the world's largest tech show.

The partnership has changed since the time many years ago when Dolby brought technologies to Chinese companies, which were trying to move into foreign markets or looking to catch up with other customers.

"That is no longer the case. In many situations, our partners in China are bringing the technology to market for the first time. They are the people who are leading the innovation," John Couling, senior vice-president of entertainment at Dolby, told China Daily.

Citing the examples of Chinese TV manufacturers, he said now new experiences can first start in China with their Chinese partners and then be bought into the global market.

The automotive industry tells a similar story. Driven by consumer demand for more immersive in-car audio experiences, Dolby now has more than 10 automakers that have started shipping or announced plans for vehicles supporting Dolby Atmos. A majority of them hail from China.

Chinese electric vehicle brands — like Nio, Li Auto, Xpeng, Zeekr, and Yangwang — have been early adopters of Dolby Atomos audio technology. "China has been the region that's been most innovative in terms of grasping this new technology and bringing it into their cars," said Couling.

The Chinese automaker-partners showcase "tremendous energy and a perfect fit with Dolby's vision", as Couling put it.

He also found that in many cases the companies that stepped forward to embrace new ideas are based in China. "In China, innovation is very fast-paced. Companies are very quick to adopt new technologies and push the experience forward. I think that has set up the marketplace so that they really can embrace these new innovations," he said.

That innovation ecosystem thrives on China's tech-savvy consumers who demand the very best.

"Chinese consumers truly care about entertainment quality," explained Couling, who has witnessed firsthand the Chinese consumers as he has engaged the market for many years.

"The Chinese consumers really care about the quality of that entertainment, and we see that across the industry," he said upon returning from a trip to the country at the end of 2023 and considering himself "fortunate to spend time in China".

"We see Chinese manufacturers of cars, televisions or phones continue to increase their product performance. We also see creators of music or TV shows and sports also making the content better and better all the time," he said.

"They're really trying to provide the best experience they can for the Chinese consumers."

Concerns about "de-risking" in the Chinese market were dismissed by Couling.

"We build our business on strong partnerships, wherever they are in the world, and that's what we'll continue to do," he emphasized.

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