Bang & Olufsen’s history of bold design is epitomised in the Beovision Harmony television. Yet inside its striking, transformational form is another core Bang & Olufsen value: beautiful sound.
Developing the movement
“This problem of what to do with a screen when it’s turned off is something we’ve been thinking about for some time.” Jakob is Bang & Olufsen’s Mechanical Lead in the Vision department in Struer, Denmark, looking after the mechanical design of televisions. He´s describing the long conceptual lead up to making the new Beovision Harmony, a television with Bang & Olufsen’s high standards of sound and design, featuring cutting-edge screen technology by LG. “People want to have large and immersive screens to enjoy movies on, but basically the larger the screens become, the less attractive it all is, with this big black monolith taking over the room. We’ve tried working with different technologies, LCD screens and more, trying to figure out how to solve this.”
The different stages of the Beovision Harmony movement
The engineering challenges
Graabæk was excited when the brief for the Beovision Harmony landed on his desk. “The choice to go with this concept, where the fundamental idea is this whole transformation, that was a brave decision.” Brave but also complex in terms of mechanical realisation – an aspect that only excites Graabæk and his team. “When one says something’s not possible, that’s a good way to get an engineer fired up,” Graabæk exclaims.
“Over the years we’ve had some interesting concepts with shelves coming up in front, with cabinets sliding in and out. We’ve been flipping the backside out and we’ve been rotating it,” Graabæk recounts. “When the Beovision Harmony idea emerged, the deal-breaker was the combination of having this transformation where we lift the screen and rotate the speaker fronts and have this graceful and dramatic shift between two states – all of a sudden it was a beautiful fluid motion.”
The real challenge for Graabæk and his team was to realise a working model of the Beovision Harmony that was suitable for production. “How on Earth do you actually do that!?” Graabæk jokes. “At first there were numerous problems with stability, precision and synchronising the movement of the speakers and screen. The challenge was how do you ensure the front speakers always line up?”
“When one says it’s not possible, that’s a good way to get an engineer fired up. Tell an engineer that they can’t do something, and then they’ll say ‘I’ll prove you wrong!’”
Bang & Olufsen’s Mechanical Lead in the Vision department in Struer, Denmark
Finding the solution
But the core concept was excellent, and that’s what matters to Graabæk. He and his team worked closely with long-time Bang & Olufsen designer Torsten Valeur to achieve the dramatic and seamless transformation that the Beovision Harmony embodies. “We knew that this movement was so difficult because we wanted a full rotation of the speakers at the front and we want all the gears that drive it hidden behind, all while being able to let its owners see all aspects of the product clearly during its transformation – but we have a screen moving up and down, basically cutting through any type of possible connection.”
The team needed to figure out how to make the complex and striking transformation of the Beovision Harmony logical, simple and strong – they needed to make it look natural and easy. After much back and forth, they landed on the simple approach of just lifting the screen and have this motion drive the rotation of the speakers – just a single arm and a carefully chosen geometry creates this fluid motion (indeed there’s a patent pending for this inventive mechanism). “We could have done a lot of much more complicated solutions but the basic idea needs to be super simple,” Graabæk states. “The simpler we can make it, the better it will work.”
The philosophy of sound
“So many companies put their focus on making their TV screens narrower. But when you make a TV very slim and narrow there is little space left for any driver that can move.” That’s Søren Viinberg, Bang & Olufsen’s Technology Specialist in Electro Acoustics getting right into the details of what differentiates Bang & Olufsen’s design ethos from the majority of television makers.
Viinberg has worked on the sound for numerous Bang & Olufsen televisions and no matter how radical the design – the boldly transformative Beovision Harmony television perhaps being exemplary of this – for Viinberg it always comes back to the listener and their quality of experience.
What Viinberg means when he says there’s not enough room for a driver to “move” is that in the quest to reduce the size of our gadgets ever smaller and thinner, quality inevitably gets sacrificed. “Most TVs are designed sound-wise for speech,” Viinberg continues. “But so many people complain about how when you are watching a movie, it’s hard to hear the dialogue. And when you analyse why that is, often it’s a lack of decent speaker drivers. Literally, the sound is not the makers’ focus, it’s not given space, and it gets lost in the room… We focus on projecting the sound to where the viewer and listener is.”
The striking Beovision Harmony could probably never get lost in any room – its sculptural concept and performative transformation perfectly blending in with any of your spaces – and this aesthetic sense for detail and space goes into the sound as well.
“We wanted to make a TV with powerful sound that could handle everything from a detailed whisper to an explosion.”
Bang & Olufsen’s Technology Specialist in Electro Acoustics
Creating an experience
For Viinberg – who became interested in engineering sound after playing guitar in bands, building music recording studios and sound engineering live gigs – so much of his work is about the entire audiovisual quality of experience, rather than simply setting a minimum standard of sound replication. “Of course we focus on tuning the sound for dialogue in movies. But also, in many movies there are sound effects, explosions and so on that you want to make impressive.”
Indeed, inside the striking design of the Beovision Harmony television are decades worth of research, thinking and caring about sound and listening. This knowledge also complements how people want to use and configure their televisions – not only is the Beovision Harmony’s sound powerful enough to provide a beautiful music listening experience it itself, it is expandable, as Viinberg describes, “we have been building a surround sound processor into our TVs, so you can set up a full surround system…”
“It’s a philosophy where you want to create a system for people and works towards the different ways they want to listen, the different sounds and music that they’ll hear.”