Football Production Summit: Dolby Atmos in the 4K mix for UEFA EURO 2016

At SVG Europe’s Football Production Summit session ‘Match-Day Audio: Bringing The Fans Closer’, Dolby Senior Product Marketing Manager Rob France revealed plans for a special next-gen audio production at the EURO 2016 Championships this summer. “We will be doing a Dolby Atmos mix alongside all of the 4K games. It’s very much a proof of concept — that this is absolutely achievable within a live environment at a major event,” he said.

“One of the decisions taken was that these Dolby Atmos mixes will be created remotely. There will be a single Dolby Atmos mixing facility within the IBC [at Porte de Versailles], and from each of the stadiums producing a 4K game each of the mic feeds will be brought back. There will be a slightly different configuration to one of the microphone positions for each of those games to give us a natural 3D sound on which we can build.

“That’s going to be done across the eight 4K games and shown at the IBC, available on the network with Dolby supporting the mix,” said France. “It’s something we’re very excited about and is going to be one of the major events that actually shows that this is achievable today.”

In response to a question from moderator David Davies about the production of next-generation immersive audio for live sports events, HARMAN Studer, Vista Product Manager Roger Heiniger wondered, “if all the players are mic-ed, how do you monitor this? You don’t know what the viewer at home is actually selecting.

“In a classic production,” said Heiniger, “we know what’s going on and what the output is: so long as a certain microphone is not on-air, as the broadcaster we don’t care, right? But what if you don’t know what’s on air?

“I think as mixer manufacturers we need some new tools to not only just track clipping but also perceived quality, to find out if the quality of the signal is fine. Is it rumbling? That’s going to be a challenge with this interactive content,” said Heiniger.

Davies then asked panellist Henry Bourne, Calrec Product Manager, if increased automation is the way to go in order to ease the burden on mixing engineers for next-generation sports audio with more sources and more outputs in different formats?

“When you mention automated systems,” replied Bourne, “there are some things we can do to take the burden off the person mixing. That’s valuable in any scenario, whether you have these object mixes or not. Roger’s point is: if you’re delivering an object-based mix, we don’t know how much everyone understands about that.

“To back up a little bit: you can create these presentations that people at home can switch between – they could choose one crowd over a different crowd or one language over a different language. Or maybe no commentary at all,” continued Bourne.

“The ability to monitor all those different potential mixes people might want is scales higher than what people have to monitor at the moment. It’s already difficult to monitor a surround mix and a stereo mix and ensure compatibility – we know there are a lot of challenges in that area already,” said Bourne.

“If you think when there was a move from stereo to 5.1 – and I know not everyone has gone to 5.1 yet – there’s been a lot of new challenges and skills to learn, even if the technology to do it is largely the same. Engineers have to learn new skills – and this move to object-based is even bigger than the move from stereo to 5.1. I think it’s got potential for a lot more benefit than that move, but there are a huge number of challenges ahead,” said Bourne.

How do you begin to plan for this dramatically increased channel count, asked Davies.

“Well if you’re talking about objects, there doesn’t necessarily have to be more channels. Are we talking about delivery of all the objects to somewhere else through the production chain? On the capture side, we are mic-ing up more players and referees and there are more channels coming in.

“If you’re just taking the audio we have now and creating a number of different mixes, you’ve got a lot of those sources coming in already — and actually compared to now where you’re creating channel mixes, to create the objects you almost don’t need anything extra because you’ve already got the channels in there. You just don’t mix them – you send them as direct out or something like that. The challenge we have at the moment is that the current generation of mixing desks don’t support any altering of this metadata, they don’t support these presentations.”

Mobile platforms driving audio innovation

Dolby’s Rob France also commented on the role of next-generation audio as we move to next-generation video, aka 4K and possibly HDR. “Regarding 4K, I certainly believe it needs better audio. We should be doing 3D audio as a base for 4K and then building on top – HDR will probably build on 4K as well,” he said.

“But does that mean necessarily that you need to have that better audio with the 4K? No: you may be hearing that better audio on a tablet, because actually the quickest way to upgrade for consumers is via a mobile app.

“We did a rollout on a VoD platform in Asia; that was about post-produced Dolby Atmos content. Within three months over a million people were able to access the Dolby Atmos sound, and that was purely because it had gone out through an app on a mobile platform and they were getting 3D virtualised sound on headphones. We just can’t turn over that sort of scale on the linear broadcast model.

“But the games that get better audio are going to be the games that produce 4K because they are the top games. They’re the most valuable productions. Will the consumer actually get all those things together on the same device? Not necessarily so.

“From an audio perspective,” said France, “there’s a lot we can do today through the consoles with the people on the ground. But there will things we wish to do that will require additional investment.

“In NASCAR they have someone whose role it is to listen to all the team radios, to make sure that everything that is going out is clean. It’s about identifying the right games where that can be justified. Can it be done remotely? A lot of tests we’ve done with next-gen audio have had remote production, which gives us more flexibility,” said France.

What about the investment at the consumer end, asked Davies? How many people will be able to enjoy immersive audio, and how much will they have to spend?

“Well that’s probably a Dolby question! Our aim at Dolby,” said France, “is to make 3D audio accessible to everybody. That never happened with 5.1 – but with 3D and the ability to virtualise 3D over headphones to achieve a much better experience even than stereo TV speakers, we believe that the Dolby Atmos content has a real relevance.

“I really don’t see home theatre as being a big thing for 3D audio. It will be premium. But it’s going to be mobile that drives the market; it’s going to be sound bars and virtualised TV sets. There’s a lot we can do for the natural replacement cycle that customers will go through. In three to four years time I can absolutely see an average TV set being equipped with Dolby Atmos and getting much better audio out of it than you do today.”

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