[SR Talks] ⑦ Interview with a Spatial Audio Expert at Samsung Research America

Q: Please briefly introduce yourself, the Digital Media Solutions (DMS) Audio Lab at Samsung Research America, and the kind of work that goes on there. What projects are you working on?

I am Toni Hirvonen, working at the Digital Media Solutions (DMS) Audio Lab at Samsung Research America. Our lab’s role lies much in ensuring that Samsung products, such as soundbars, have best-in-class sound quality. We also conduct long-term discovery and research on associated technologies.

I am currently the project lead for our lab’s efforts related to the HDR10+ Audio, a.k.a. Immersive Audio Model and Formats (IAMF) project. IAMF is an intercompany endeavor carried out in the Alliance for Open Media (AOM). It is an audio format specification aimed to offer a royalty-free license and open-source software. Our team works collaboratively with other researchers at Samsung Research in the development of IAMF company strategy and technology and contributes to the standard specification. We also publish our results in scientific publications and patents.

Q: Please tell us about the importance of your research field or technology.

My primary area of research is spatial audio. We, humans, have two ears not for listening twice as much as speaking but so that we can distinguish the source locations and other spatial aspects related to the sounds around us. Despite the apparent dominance of visual perception, our complicated auditory neural pathways enable us to analyze complex sound fields and distinguish minuscule differences. For this reason, sound has a key role (often subconsciously) in providing the “final touch” for multimedia quality. The extensive spatial capabilities offered by the latest audio formats add compelling immersiveness and another expressive dimension.

IAMF provides creators with the tools to craft immersive audio experiences across a myriad of applications, from streaming and gaming to augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as traditional broadcasting. The format offers seamless delivery to a wide range of devices, including headphones, mobile phones, televisions, soundbars, and home theater systems.

IAMF and other similar formats, have increased in popularity in recent years. They represent the next generation in delivering spatial audio for multimedia. IAMF can be seen as the license-free alternative for closed ecosystems utilized by some companies. I believe open ecosystems, as proposed by companies like Samsung and others, are more beneficial in the long run, especially for regular consumers.

Q: Can you tell us about the main achievement and the most rewarding moments in your research or a memorable episode?

After joining Samsung in the summer of 2023, I was thrilled to discover that my expertise in spatial sound is valuable here. So, instead of going through a long orientation period, I was able to start contributing right away. It has been rewarding to see our work resulting in publications and patent applications, which contributes to promoting IAMF as a promising and competitive tool.

The DMS audio lab has a strong background in blind listening tests and a rapid turnaround to get results. It feels satisfying to see your proposed methods being validated with scientific robustness that could take quite a while in other circumstances. I have been working on promoting this capability to the other IAMF project members, and we have exciting possibilities for collaboration.

This year, I realized the importance of applied research when considering what our team could and should contribute. Nowadays, this often involves working directly on implementations. While theoretical prototypes, papers, and patents are essential, they are not the real end product that people use. This is particularly relevant for open technologies like IAMF. Although we will not abandon theoretical work, I’ve been happy to find our applied contributions starting to bear fruit.

Q: What is your vision for the future, and what goal would you want to achieve at Samsung Research?

In general, I would like to be involved in creating fantastic, useful products that leverage innovative science-driven techniques. In addition to spatial audio, I also have a background in machine learning and signal processing, both of which I aim to incorporate more into my work. I would be open to venturing beyond audio or finding an interesting project where I can collaborate with other labs in Samsung Research. In the era of open technologies and AI, implementation is the key, and I hope I can personally streamline the transition from concept to realization. Sadly, there are just too many brilliant ideas to pursue them all!