The experience is a common one: You've nestled in to the living-room couch to enjoy an evening with your favorite TV drama. The action is getting tense, and you're fully invested. The dramatic music kicks in, the climactic reveal comes, and the screen fades to black as the show transitions to commercial. Before you have a chance to exhale and process the moment, bam! Obnoxiously loud announcer-guy is trying to sell you a car shammy. You lunge for the remote to turn down the volume, but it's too late. The moment is gone.
Maybe this one sounds familiar: You've rented the latest blockbuster on DVD. The kids finally go to sleep, and the evening is yours. Instead of a relaxing time in front of the TV, you spend the next two hours playing volume pogo with the remote: up, up, up to hear dialogue; down, down, down when the action sequence or musical montage kicks in. Not exactly the entertainment event you were hoping for.
Extreme volume variation is perhaps the single largest detriment to a positive A/V experience on a day-to-day basis; yet, until recently, the issue didn't receive the attention it probably deserved. Yes, solutions have been offered--a quick search through your HDTV's audio setup menu may reveal a leveler that claims to even out these discrepancies. In my experience, however, these generic options are seldom effective. The good news is, the big names in audio processing--Dolby, Audyssey, and SRS--are now taking the issue seriously. All three companies have developed more advanced volume-leveling technologies that are starting to appear in new HDTVs, A/V receivers, and (soon) set-top boxes. That's all well and good if you're in the market for a new product, but what if you're happy with the components you already own? SRS has come to the rescue with the first standalone volume-leveling adaptor, which fits easily between your source device and your TV.
The SRS MyVolume uses the company's TruVolume technology. To ensure compatibility with a wide range of systems, the MyVolume is available in two versions: the DCT-8S for HDMI-equipped systems and the DCT-6S for components with stereo analog jacks. I tested the HDMI version with my living-room system, which includes a DirecTV HR21 HD DVR, Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player, and Samsung LN-T4681F TV. The DCT-8S is a simple black box that measures just 3.75 inches wide by 1.5 high by 0.875 deep. Physical setup is a breeze: You simply feed HDMI from your set-top box into the MyVolume's lone HDMI 1.3 input, feed the HDMI output into your TV, and plug in the box. (The package includes one HDMI cable.) The unit has two different on/off switches: On top is a general power button, which must be turned on in order for the MyVolume to pass the A/V signal between source and TV. On the side is a TruVolume on/off switch, which allows you to enable or disable the volume-leveling technology as the content requires. You may not always want to use the TruVolume technology, and this design approach lets you turn it off without having to disconnect the box from your system.
The MyVolume will pass through a video signal with a resolution up to 1080p/60 (including 1080p/24), so it's compatible with the new crop of Blu-ray players on the market. It supports a bandwidth up to 225MHz and is HDCP v1.1-compliant. On the audio side, the MyVolume can pass a two-channel PCM audio signal up to 48 kilohertz, but it does not support multichannel audio. Clearly, this box is designed for use between a source and TV, not between a source and an A/V receiver.
I primarily tested the MyVolume's effectiveness with TV signals from my DirecTV receiver, and the box did a generally good job of leveling out extreme variations without making the dynamic range too flat. It essentially brings up the volume of the TV source and brings down the volume of commercials, with still allowing for needed swells and fades. The fact that it brings up the level of TV shows may be especially beneficial for those who have mild hearing problems. The one type of content that tripped up the MyVolume was programming that contains a live audience, such as The Daily Show or a sporting event. The swells of crowd reaction combined with music and an announcer's dialogue proved a tough test for TruVolume, as it struggled to find a set level. I watched a lot of Olympics coverage, and I could hear noticeable volume shifts when moving from the crowd noise to the announcer or from the live event to Bob Costas in the studio. With this particular type of programming, I often preferred to keep the TruVolume switch turned off. Beyond that, I found the MyVolume box to be an effective volume leveling tool.
Read about the high points and the low points of the SRS MyVolume on Page 2.
• The MyVolume is currently the only standalone volume-leveling
solution and is available in an HDMI or a stereo analog version, so
it's compatible with most existing sources and TVs.
• It has a small form factor, and the package includes an HDMI cable.
• In general, the TruVolume technology effectively reduces extreme volume variations while keeping some sense of dynamic range.
• You can turn off the TruVolume function without having to remove the box from your setup.
• This solution requires that you add another box (albeit a small one) and another HDMI and power cable to your setup.
• The MyVolume only has one HDMI input, so it can't accommodate multiple sources.
• The MyVolume does not support multichannel audio.
• The TruVolume technology sometimes struggled to maintain a consistent
volume with live programming, particularly sporting events.
It's about time somebody offered a standalone volume leveling solution,
so kudos to SRS for creating a product that helps to address the issue
without forcing you to buy new equipment. The MyVolume DCT-8S is
configured for a very specific purpose--to pass two-channel audio from
a source directly to a TV--so it's obviously not a good fit for someone
who has a full-fledged home entertainment system. With its limited
purpose and single HDMI input, the $199.99 MSRP seems high, but SRS has
wisely opted to sell the unit for a more reasonable $99.99 on its
website. (The analog DCT-6S sells for $49.99.) One of the most common
questions I'm asked by friends and family is why the volume jumps so
much between TV shows and commercials. Sure, I can explain the reasons,
but that hardly makes the issue easier to take. Now, I can finally
point them toward a standalone solution that makes it a bit easier to
sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.