European TV powerhouse Vestel sees AC4 improve consumer experience

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One of the broadcast industry’s best-kept secrets, Turkey’s Vestel consortium of 28 companies is behind an empire of household goods, from home appliances to lighting and displays. It’s one of the largest global TV manufacturers and has a significant share of the European market through in-house and licensed brands. Vestel built and maintains this huge market presence by constantly investing in manufacturing and R&D, and through partnerships with technology innovators such as Dolby Laboratories. Through these relationships, and through active involvement with standardisation bodies worldwide, the company has become one of the most wholehearted proponents of advanced technologies, including innovative system-on-a-chip (SOC) designs, LCD panels and backlighting, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and AC4 next-generation audio.

But it’s never about technology for technology’s sake, according to Vestel’s BarışAltınkaya, Deputy General Manager of Marketing and Product Management. “For us, content is king,” he says. “We can provide Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and Dolby AC-4 in all our TVs now, and we know that customers like different aspects of the experience, and AC4 offers great potential here. Obviously, audio quality is a massive part of this, but there are 360-degree immersive effects and hugely improved accessibility from boosting dialogue over background effects and music. Everyone will get a hugely improved audio experience when Dolby AC-4 content is available.”


Experience leads to confidence in the future

Vestel knows how to bring innovation to customers in ways that really benefit them, thanks to its many decades of selling new tech to customers looking to easily get the best out of purchases.

“Every customer likes a better experience,” says Altınkaya, “but virtually none will spend much time going through menus to get it. Absolutely nobody does that when switching between channels or different content types. So we’ve implemented Auto and Smart options for Dolby Atmos and enabled them by default on all our sets.”

These smart features auto-sense content types from broadcasting and streaming services to turn on and optimise the Dolby Atmos settings as required. “We have music, movie, and news options too,” says Altınkaya. “But for the Smart modes, we use Dolby’s Media Intelligence feature, which is available to us as part of the toolkit that Dolby provides.”

In particular, he says, the combination of AC4’s metadata capabilities, smart options, and a very user-focused interface adds a lot of accessibility capabilities, such as audio description tracks, spoken subtitles, and auto-selection of tracks in the user’s chosen language. To let viewers know exactly what they’re getting, Vestel’s TVs display a small on-screen Dolby logo for encoded content. As when customers looked for the Dolby symbol on analogue tape decks, Vestel believes customers will come to look for the logo as a mark of quality on both their TV hardware and content. Anticipating this helps future-proof its products to an extent, even with shorter product refresh cycles.

Today, consumers treat TVs more like laptops than furniture and Altınkaya explains that the company has to refresh its entire line-up once a year, unlike when it started making TVs in 1984. “It took 15 years to get to our first multi-channel Dolby surround sound TV,” he says, “then just three to completely transition from that to Dolby Atmos and Dolby AC-4.”

The company’s relationship with Dolby Laboratories has been essential to leading the pack, says Altınkaya. “We have a very long relationship with Dolby and have used many of its codecs, and we were among the first to commit to AC-4. Although we get the signal processing in the Dolby-licensed SoCs, the audio outputs, speaker selection, and mechanical audio engineering is up to us. We work on the sound quality in conjunction with the Dolby team.”


A kind of magic

Altınkaya has seen the TV market and content consumption models change in some unexpected ways, some of which he attributes to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We expected the market to slow down, which it did for a couple of months. Then it came back really strongly, with everyone at home and lots of people getting multiple streaming service subscriptions.” Non-US viewers with their more compact living spaces surprised him with their appetite for larger sets. “I would have said that, in Europe especially, nobody would want more than a 55-inch set. But now demand is up for 60, 70, even 75 inches.”

With the online streaming services seeing such strong growth in high-quality video and audio content backed by new features, Altınkaya says, the terrestrial and satellite broadcasters are looking to new standards in response.

“With our support for AC-4 as part of HbbTV, DVB-DASH, MSE, and HLS streaming specifications, Vestel is leading the way to give broadcasters a viewership equipped with the options they need to innovate,” he says. “Every year is better and better. I started 23 years ago in CRT R&D, and every step in picture and sound has been important. Television is giving customers more and more features, so developments like Dolby Atmos and Dolby AC-4 are very important to me personally. To hear 360 degree surround sound from two speakers? It feels like magic. It makes me happy.”