Who says innovation and technology are for young people only? Life experience is a powerful asset for entrepreneurship. With the right idea, even people at retirement age can set our imagination on fire to brighten up the world.
Science Park company X-Spatial was set up by veteran engineer Daniel Chiu and various experts from the commercial and investment fields. Now chairman and CEO of the company, Daniel spent most of his working life with NASA and multinationals and has made his mark in the world. As he was approaching retirement and indulging his hobby of listening to music, an idea occurred to him. He threw himself into research and development and produced results that have disrupted the global audio-visual entertainment business.
Audio optimising technology generates fuller sound
The company’s core technology is its proprietary “4D Psychoacoustics” audio optimisation technology, WIZOR. According to X-Spatial’s business director Elliott Yuen, it makes sound come alive with remarkable realism and provides a superior audio experience much more powerful than conventional surround-sound. WIZOR can be used in cinemas, theatres, auditoriums and entertainment venues to elevate the audio experience of movies, live musical performances and digital games.
Daniel is a die-hard audio system enthusiast. He was never quite happy with the quality of so-called 3D audio. After some probing, he found that sound recorded with conventional technology only has two-dimensional acoustic vibration signals. Even top-end sound systems have to rely on having multiple speakers and the listener positioned in the “sweet spot” to get the stereo effect. This motivated him to develop an audio optimising technology.
He referenced aerospace technology and used signal restructuring, psychoacoustic and perception enhancement to develop WIZOR, which produces high-fidelity audio. Signal restructuring involves studying the characteristics of audio signals transmitted through different media. The findings are used to build a data bank and algorithms for restoring 2D audio sources to the original 3D sound as if in a live setting. Psychoacoustic works on the principle of sound wave transmission. Based on the positions of specific signals and the spectrum of various sounding objects, the human brain is guided to perceive various sound fields and believe it is hearing 3-dimensional surround sound. Perception enhancement works on the parts of the brain that are sensitive to music and stimulate those parts with audio signals to enhance audio empathy.
Curating a range of products and services
Elliott says X-Spatial has developed a range of WIZOR products and services, from optimising audio for cinemas to supporting audio enhancement in post-production for movie producers, as well as optimising sound effects, audio-visual programmes and music streamed or downloaded online.
Reaching out to mainland and overseas markets
As the plug-and-play WIZOR performs well and is widely compatible with other sound systems, X-Spatial’s business is quickly taking off in the US, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Elliott says the mainland market has been in the company’s crosshair in recent years, and more than 50 cinema chains have signed on to have the WIZOR system installed in more than 500 cinemas. The system has also been adopted in Hong Kong cinemas. It is actively negotiating with multiple parties to bring the sound system to all Hong Kong movie houses.
He anticipates the system will be used in some 1,000 to 1,500 cinemas in mainland China during 2018. Other than cinemas, about 10 movies produced in different parts of the world have used X-Spatial solutions to optimise sound effects in post-production, and that number is expected to increase to 50 for the whole year. As well, the sound technology is being used for TV productions and remastering old movies.
X-Spatial has other grand plans too. Elliott thinks the 3D and AR markets present great potential. Earlier, a Japanese TV show drew attention when it used 3D projection to show a concert by late singer Teresa Teng, and 3D sound played a big part in the show. The company is talking to various digital product manufacturers for collaboration to venture into sound systems for homes and cars as well as portable speakers. In the social media market, X-Spatial’s WIZOR technology has been adopted by HMV to enhance the sound effects of certain AV content. The company has also connected with global entertainment giants such as Netflix and Spotify. More eye-catching moves are in the offing.
HKSTP provides support in four ways
X-Spatial has been based at Science Park for more than two years. Elliott thinks that being a HKSTP partner company has brought benefits in four areas. First, it got in touch with investors from different countries through investment promotion, which helps the company in future financing initiatives. Second, the company can share insights with counterparts and even form partnerships to expand business networks. Third, it has gained exposure for its products and technology – X-Spatial’s WIZOR system is used with the big screen in Science Park’s Core Building. Lastly, it has received ample support for business development, such as expanding its office space flexibly.
The company has more than 40 employees working on R&D of audio optimisation algorithms and various WIZOR applications. Elliott hopes to continue collaboration with HKSTP to tackle issues with resources, market expansion and R&D, and help the sound specialists reach even higher notes.