Emo Labs, Making Sound Leap Off the TV Screen, Woos Asian Electronics Makers
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whether the big TV manufacturers will bite. Carlson and Evelyn say that in their meetings in Asia, they present data showing that consumers are starting to get fed up with the audio quality of their thin new flat-panel HDTVs. Boston-based market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey, in a survey commissioned by Emo, found that “there is a generally high level of disappointment [in sound quality] when people bring that new TV home,” according to Evelyn.
The company also says there’s anecdotal evidence that salesmen at big-box stores—think Wal-Mart or Best Buy—are having a harder time these days hawking new TVs based on picture quality alone. “Early on, plasma and LCD were actually a step down in picture quality from the best CRTs, but now it’s pretty good,” says Carlson. “But recently a manufacturer in Japan relayed a conversation with an executive from a very large U.S. electronics retailer, who said ‘Video quality on these TVs is at 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 5. It’s about time you start working on something else, because I’m going to have a hard time selling TVs if you just go from 4.5 to 4.7.'”
But the point the Emo executives keep coming back to is the laughably bad audio quality of the speakers in the thinnest new TVs. “In the video world, what if we said that we were going to take away red, and you could only have blue and green?” says Carlson. “Yet that’s what they’re doing in the audio world—these little speakers can’t do sound below 300 Hertz, yet there are bass sounds in the Dolby tracks of DVDs going down to 60 or 80 Hertz.”
If electronics makers in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea decide to give consumers the choice, you might be able to pay an extra $50 or $100 for those missing frequencies within a year or two. Of course, winning a signed purchase agreement from a major customer—and spinning up the necessary manufacturing capacity—might mean that Emo Labs would have to go back to its venture backers for more cash. But Carlson says that’s the least of his concerns: “I think our investors would be pretty quick to write that check.”
[Update, July 13, 2009: Forbes.com has published a nice video segment featuring Jason Carlson demonstrating Emo’s speaker technology.]