Cignal TV levels up HD experience with Dolby Digital Plus technology

Kap Maceda Aguila (The Philippine Star) - June 30, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Since its launch in 2009, Cignal has grown to become the country’s leading direct-to-home pay TV provider  boasting a subscriber base of more than 740,000 while providing the most number of high-definition (HD) channels. The service has also endeavored to push the “boundaries of clarity, not just for video but for audio as well.”

In an exclusive interview with The STAR, Cignal TV VP and head of marketing Guido Zaballero asserts that Cignal has gained traction among an increasing number of households because the service hinges on putting “a lot of emphasis on creating viewing experience that’s second to none.”

That means, he continues, having “a channel lineup (without) wasted channels (as) the average viewer only watches seven channels.” There’s no wisdom, Zaballero asserts, in 100 channels when you don’t watch a lot of them.

Perhaps entering the game relatively late has given Cignal vital lessons and insight to shape its product and service line for greater sensitivity to market needs. With the advent of HD programming across many channels, Cignal embeds HD channels into plans along with analog channels, rather than ask customers to pay a la carte as a leading competitor does.

Now, Cignal is serving notice that it is also prepared to push the envelope in terms of technology toward enhanced viewer enjoyment via a first in the country. Cignal partners with audio experts Dolby Laboratories to offer more compelling sound with Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.

“If you have good video, you have to have good audio as well,” says Zaballero simply.

Dolby Laboratories regional director for Southeast Asia Leong-Yan Yoong can’t agree more. He insists to The STAR that audio might even be more important than video. One might willingly suffer through bad video, but not bad sound.

“When the audio is really crappy, the first thing you do it reach for the remote control and reach for the volume button,” Yoong shares with a smile. “If the picture’s not good, you probably would not bother.”

The Dolby executive observes that sound quality has made technological leaps through the years — given expression most fully on the big screen. “The standard or expectation of consumers is thus higher because they know when they go to the cinema they get a level of experience. But this experience does not need to be compromised at home,” Yoong insists.

A growing number of households now have flat-panel, high-quality LED or LCD screens, and have been used to popping in DVD or Blu-ray discs into their players to watch features in engaging quality — made even more memorable through audio receivers that render the sound output into five full bandwidth channels (left, center, right, rear left, rear right) and one low frequency channel (subwoofer).

For some now, Cignal TV HD channels have been featuring Dolby Digital sound that takes advantage of that configuration. Dolby Digital Plus represents the next stage in audio technology evolution that is designed for devices other than the family television set, such as tablets or smartphones. One could liken it to future-proofing both your video and audio experience.

Yoong insists that not all high-definition channel feeds are equal. “HD is not always 5.1. You just might be listening to stereo,” he reports. Even if you are hooked up to a home theater system, the source signal may not be optimized for 5.1.

“Dolby’s approach is to optimize the experience for the consumer. We do the technical readiness from the content source. We make sure the content is in the right format — native 5.1 surround sound — so that when it gets to the subscribers setup box at home, it’s already tested end to end,” Yoong says.

It makes a lot of sense for Dolby as it is already almost omnipresent as far as moviemaking goes. The company’s engineers involve themselves in post-production work to optimize the sound and work with the directors and producers to help these fully realize their vision.

“Most movies are mixed in Dolby,” underscores Yoong. Therefore, with the Dolby thumbprint on the HD experience, viewers are given assurance on getting the original, authentic — and optimized — audio wherever the movie is played because the metadata has been imprinted on it.

Cignal will initially offer Dolby Digital Plus for Cignal TV plans 1590 and higher, and on three channels: MTV, Universal, and Cartoon Network. The bigger, well, picture is to eventually roll it out for all HD channels. Yoong expects the adoption to be as pervasive as HD itself.

“Numbers are growing across the region,” he avers. “Once you go HD, you don’t go back.” Yoong continues that the popularity of home theater systems and even products like sound bars shows that people are more discriminating about audio.

He reveals that some 400,000 households in Singapore now enjoy the Dolby Digital Plus experience. In Thailand, Dolby has partnered with some 50 channels for a similar HD product.

Yoong says the Philippine ecosystem is “vibrant,” and is ripe to push the envelope to enhance the experience.

For Zaballero, it’s about being number one through innovation even as Cignal continues to push its business in Metro Manila and in the substantial growth area of underserved communities beyond it.

“Our technology allows us to go to non-cabled areas because we are satellite based,” he shares. “That’s a big opportunity. Outside of Metro Manila, you have a lot of pay TV operators but they have not upgraded to digital or HD.”

Cignal TV postpaid and segments marketing head Jonathan Salera says the public should watch out for more products from Cignal — particularly its TV To Go product (surely set to work with Dolby Digital Plus), the beta phase of which was launched sometime ago.

Surely, the message is clear: Cignal is here to stay and seek leadership in the rapidly evolving space of pay TV.

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