Next Generation Audio Summit: Exploring the broadcasting potential of immersive and personalised audio

Dolby’s Soho Square theatre was an ideal venue in which to discuss immersive and personalised audio, and the strong panel – comprising Paul Chalkin, Recording and Retail Solutions Director at Harman; Rob France, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Dolby; Chris Gaunt, Product Manager at Calrec; David Tyler, Avid’s International Audio Solutions Manager; and Lawo’s Audio Production Product Manager, Tobias Kronenwett – were guided through a comprehensive exploration of next generation audio by moderator David Davies, who is SVG Europe’s Managing Editor, writes Tim Frost.

Two very different topics were covered, namely personalisation and immersive audio. On the immersive side, the cinema business is decades ahead of broadcast, says Tyler, who is currently working closely with NHK on their 22.2 audio.

“It’s early days,” he says, “and for many other broadcasters there are a lot of conversations going on around immersive audio. But they are in the early stages compared to the theatrical market.”

Being able to engineer immersive is a major issue, he says: “The challenge has been to integrate it into the application. As well as the audio information, you have the meta information which you have to keep together. The goal is to have a more integrated experience when working with immersive audio so you are not having to jump through too many hoops.”

“I think they realise that people are saying it sounds good and the investment isn’t that high. If immersive audio is considered at the start of the build then the cost is pretty minimal,” said France. “Putting speakers in the ceiling of a new truck really isn’t a lot of extra cost especially when you are looking at a 4K truck.”

Chalkin pointed to the new generation of monitor speakers that need to be small but extremely powerful. “As you add more speakers they have to be further away but still be able to deliver the SPL. The JBLs have a new generation of transducers using external amps with DSP signal conditioning to perform down to 30Hz from a small box. There is quite a bit of Atmos going on; the key point is that there are scalable systems that will go from very small control rooms to large dubbing stages.”

OBA challenges

Object based audio brings with it a whole set of extra challenges, commented Kronenwett: “I think if we go for any object stuff we need to find some form of automation to handle this.” Gaunt agreed: “Yes, we are seeing some movement in the immersive side but not yet in the object side, possibly because there are more challenges with that.”

Personalisation also presents challenges, but more about the artistic decisions that could be taken out of the audio engineer’s and director’s hands. One area of interest would be the ability of the viewer to lift the dialogue channel, said Gaunt, a comment that raised knowing laughter from a number of the more ‘mature’ members of the audience.

The future for immersive depends on being able to reproduce it easily in the home environment. DSP developments should allow this to happen without filling the lounge with speakers, notes France. “The further up you go in channel counts, the further you go away from the average viewer. So having something that maps all this for the lower-end systems is much more important.

“We are looking to make sure this is relevant to 100% of the people. When you buy your TV three years down the line, the sound system will be able to do a much better job, not with more drivers, but the technology behind plays tricks to do this.”

Harnessing headphones

The processing takes on a new dimension for headphone listening, which is becoming increasingly important. “One big step is the whole second screen application. So when I look at my kids they don’t know what linear TV is anymore; they are always watching on their iPad,” said Kronenwett.

France notes that within Dolby, “one of the areas we are working on is taking better advantage of headphones. The speaker systems have been addressed first because that’s the easiest, but headphone is more complex.”

Gaunt summed up the usefulness of summits like this one. “In immersive not a lot will change, although there is an extra dimension. It’s not as radical a change as the concept of the mixing console [not having] the final mix.

“There’s plenty of scope to work on the existing products. But it’s coming to events like this that [allows to] discuss what is required, and just as importantly, what isn’t required. There are things that you think may be a good idea but in reality people don’t care about.”

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