It’s not exactly secret that, when it comes to advanced features necessary for its products, Samsung often prefers do to its own thing rather than license technologies developed by others… even if its own solutions are unlikely to find much success outside its own ecosystem. It has done it with Bixby (its voice assistant that very few people actually want to use nowadays), it has done it with Dolby Vision (pushing for adoption of the HDR10 Plus format instead) and it’s doing it again with Dolby Atmos (which the company does support now but evidently did not really want to – it’ll all make sense in a moment). You see, the company recently revealed that it’s been working with Google since 2020 on a different spatial audio technology framework called IAMF (Immersive Audio Model and Formats), which promises to deliver the kind of functionality offered by other object-based audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
As was the case with HDR10 Plus, the most important aspect of IAMF is that it is open source: it’s free to use by anyone interested in doing so, without any royalties involved. It’s widely known that Dolby charges Hollywood studios, streaming services and other content creators a pretty penny in licensing fees, a fact that the industry seems to have more or less accepted. Samsung has gone to great lengths in order to not pay any royalties to Dolby over the years, while Google is all about open source when it comes to software for devices, so it made sense for both to work on a Dolby Atmos alternative. IAMF was adopted by the Alliance for Open Media (AOM) a few weeks back – AOM is also promoting the AV1 video format – so we may hear more about it in CES 2024, bearing a more consumer-friendly name.
For the time being, all we have to go on is Samsung’s own comments on this new tech. The company claims that IAMF offers three core features: vertical sound, AI scene analysis and user-customized audio. The first one sounds like the height channels Dolby Atmos or DTS:X offer, the third one could be referring to audio adapting to rooms of different sizes and layouts, while the second could be anything, from sound processing based on certain algorithms to non-spatial sound “upscaling” to object-based sound.
IAMF provides creators with the tools to craft immersive audio experiences across a myriad of applications, from streaming and gaming to AR and VR, as well as traditional broadcasting. IAMF’s ability to carry and include multiple audio mix configurations enables creator and user controllable loudness adjustments for different playback preferences. It also offers seamless delivery of both channel-based and scene-based ambisonics spatial audio presentations to a wide range of devices including headphones, mobile phones, televisions, soundbars and home theater systems.
It goes without saying that a free 3D sound editing and presentation framework available to all creators can only help spatial audio gain mainstream adoption and popularity, so IAMF does serve a purpose in this sense. It’s hardware support and product availability , though, that will make or break any alternative to already established software technology, regardless of the costs involved. Samsung’s wide range of products having to do with spatial audio – from TVs and soundbars to home theater systems and even earbuds – can certainly help by supporting IAMF in the future but, as both HDR10 Plus and AV1 proved, it cannot in any way guarantee wide industry adoption or mainstream commercial success.
It’s obviously too early to make an assessment regarding IAMF’s chances against Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, especially since there’s so much we don’t yet know about it, so here’s hope that Samsung will share more about it in Las Vegas on January 8th.