Sound-on-film refers to a class of sound film processes where the sound accompanying picture is physically recorded onto photographic film, usually, but not always, the same strip of film carrying the picture. Sound-on-film processes can either record an analog sound track or digital sound track, and may record the signal either optically or magnetically. Earlier technologies were sound-on-disc, meaning the film's soundtrack would be on a separate phonograph record.
Although Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer was far from being the first film with a synchronised soundtrack, it was the first feature length film with lip-sync dialogue. It achieved significant commercial success and thus provided the impetus for the rapid switch to sound film production in Hollywood.
Analog sound-on-film recording
The most prevalent modern method of recording sound on a film print is by stereo variable-area (SVA) recording, encoding a two-channel audio signal as a pair of lines running parallel with the film's direction of travel through the projector. The lines change area (grow broader or narrower) depending on the magnitude of the signal. The projector shines a light or LED, called an exciter, through a perpendicular slit onto the film. The image on the small slice of exposed track modulates the intensity of the light, which is collected by a photosensitive element, a photodiode or CCD.
Commonly, the audio signal recorded onto an SVA track is encoded through a phase matrix, which allowed the two-channel format to record a center and surround channel, and companding noise reduction, which allows a constant signal-to-noise ratio to be delivered over a wide dynamic range.
Almost all modern motion picture sound formats are sound-on-film formats, including:
Optical analog formats
- Fox/Western Electric (Westrex) Movietone, are variable-density formats of sound film. (No longer used, but still playable on modern projectors.)
- RCA Photophone, a variable-area format now universally used for optical analog soundtracks - since the late 1970s, usually with a Dolby encoding matrix.
Optical digital formats
- Fantasound, where sound and picture were recorded on separate strips of film, introduced for initial release of Disney's Fantasia (1940)
- Phonofilm, patented by Lee De Forest in 1919, defunct by 1929
- Cinema Digital Sound, an optical format which was the first commercial digital sound format, used between 1990 and 1992
- Sound film
- RCA Photophone
- List of film formats
- Joseph Tykociński-Tykociner
- List of film sound systems
- Multichannel Film Sound (MKPE)
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