Ultra Stereo



Ultra Stereo is a cinema sound system that was developed in 1984 by chief engineer Jack Cashin. It was a 4/2/4 photographic sound encoding and decoding procedure compatible with (and using the same technical basic structure, with identical sound quality as) its competitor Dolby Stereo Matrix.


Four channels of information (Left,
Center Center or centre may refer to: Mathematics *Center (geometry), the middle of an object * Center (algebra), used in various contexts ** Center (group theory) ** Center (ring theory) * Graph center, the set of all vertices of minimum eccentricity ...
, Right and
Surround Surround sound is a technique for enriching the fidelity and depth of sound reproduction by using multiple audio channels from speakers that surround the listener ( surround channels). Its first application was in movie theaters. Prior to su ...
) were matrix-encoded into two optical soundtracks on 35 mm theatrical release prints, occupying the same area of the film which previously held the monophonic soundtrack. The matrix-encoded track was decoded by the cinema processor in the theater during exhibition.


Ultra Stereo Labs (USL), which had been concentrating on the manufacture of sound equipment for studio screening rooms, was drawn into the exhibition-end of the business. The company developed a cinema processor, and over the next several years kept improving it and eventually placed the processor in theaters. Specifically, the USL cinema processor achieved greater channel separation than had been possible up to that time. Ultra Stereo Labs was awarded a Technical Achievement Award from the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS, often pronounced ; also known as simply the Academy or the Motion Picture Academy) is a professional honorary organization with the stated goal of advancing the arts and sciences of motio ...
in 1984, for making improvements in film sound. Soon after, USL also became involved in encoding movie soundtracks. Since they had been manufacturing studio equipment for quite some time, people asked the company to develop encoding equipment for making print masters. Films encoded in Ultra Stereo can be also decoded on Dolby Cinema processors, as it was designed to be compatible with
Dolby Stereo Dolby Stereo is a sound format made by Dolby Laboratories. It is a unified brand for two completely different basic systems: the Dolby SVA (stereo variable-area) 1976 system used with optical sound tracks on 35mm film, and Dolby Stereo 70mm noise ...
(using A-Type noise reduction) prints. In October 2016, Ultra Stereo was acquired by QSC, LLC.

Later developments

The Ultra Stereo JS series model 105/195 unit introduced a six channel discrete input module (JFM-20 SR) circa 1993 which creates a
THX THX Ltd. is an American company that develops the eponymous high fidelity audio/visual reproduction standards for movie theaters, screening rooms, home theaters, computer speakers, gaming consoles, car audio systems, and video games. Found ...
approved 5.1 surround field. This is a line level input that can accept the output from a DVD player with 5.1 discrete channel outputs. The JS series eventually evolved into later models, including the JSD-80, JSD-100, and now the JSD-60. When the industry moved away from analog soundtracks, USL transitioned to digital processing in all their audio products. In 2008, USL assembled a team of engineers to develop imaging technology for digital cinema. The result of this research and development was a leading edge digital cinema high frame rate media block and now an "all in one" media block with solid-state drives for storage. Ultra Stereo Labs continues to provide modern decoders, picture analyzers, and other devices for motion picture theaters.


As of 2017, the
Internet Movie Database IMDb (an abbreviation of Internet Movie Database) is an online database of information related to films, television series, home videos, video games, and streaming content online – including cast, production crew and personal biographies, ...
lists 1,255 titles using this format. Unlike the Dolby process, however, using the Ultra Stereo process did not require licensing fees, reducing costs for filmmakers and studios.


{{reflist Audiovisual introductions in 1985 Film sound production Surround sound Mass media companies