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Sound at the Show: Spectrum Concerns, Multichannel-Format Competition, Object-Based and Networked Audio

April 21st, 2015 Posted in Headlines By Dan Daley

NAB 2015 expanded incrementally over the previous year’s expo:103,042 (preshow) registered attendees, versus last year’s 97,915 final audited count, and 1,015,000 net sq. ft. of exhibit space, up slightly from 2014’s 947,000 net sq. ft. And the issues facing broadcast audio never seem to decrease, either. With loudness management pretty much taken care of, the next round of concerns include a looming loss of more RF spectrum, this time most of the 600 MHz UHF range; a brewing multichannel-format competition among Dolby’s Atmos, Barco’s Auro-3D, and DTS’s DTS:X; the (related) arrival of object-based audio and the standards and best practices that will have to be developed around it; and the rapid rise of networked audio and how it will be integrated into the broadcast workflow. Never a dull moment.

Networking is already being seen in audio products, particularly mix consoles. European manufacturers, such as Lawo and Stagetec, were particularly prescient in that regard, aided by an early emphasis on signal-routing technology. Other examples include Riedel’s Tango TNG-200, the first network-based platform that supports both Ravenna/AES67 and AVB standards, and Focusrite’s RedNet HD32R, a 1RU interface that connects Pro Tools|HD via standard mini DigiLink ports to Dante networks. Audio networking is already deeply embedded in live sound in venues and is working its way into the venue/broadcast interface. Where it might hit a speed bump — pun intended — is integration into OB vans, where MADI still rules.

Dolby’s Atmos demos continue to show the promise of personalization and the next neck-snapping iteration of surround sound. The company announced partnerships, such as with Avid, as part of a marketing push ahead of a format competition and also revealed that its object-based audio (OBA) authoring toolkit for broadcast applications will become available at the end of April.

According to JC Morizur, senior director, professional solutions and products, Dolby, initial implementation of OBA for sports will likely come first through live streaming, rather than OTA broadcasting, and the most advanced U.S. leagues in the streaming arena at the moment are MLB, NASCAR, and the NHL. He also gives credit to Turner Sports and MLB for having already laid the groundwork for advanced online sports experiences, such as the ability to choose replay angles and other personalized functionality.

Deeper immersiveness is undoubtedly coming to broadcast, but, as Michael Nunan, senior manager, broadcast operations, audio, Bell Media, pointed out at the DTV Audio Group meeting during the show, broadcast is still ramping up its work processes for 5.1 sound. “Talking about the future comes with the not-so-subtle suggestion that we’ve mastered the ‘now,’” he said. “But we haven’t.”

And the contraction of available spectrum continued to be a theme at the show, with the 2016 auction presaged by a new round of skirmishes. One that took place around the time of the show was a technical report filed by CITA, the trade association representing wireless-service providers, such as Verizon and AT&T, asserting that licensed wireless microphones would cause interference with mobile handsets within 5 MHz of guard bands proposed by the FCC.

Shure PR Director Mark Brunner says his company has filed its own ex parte technical report countering CITA’s assertions. “We believe the [FCC’s] original band plan did a proper analysis and provided for a proper plan under which all the services specified could co-exist. The [CITA] study was flawed on several of its parameters, and we pointed those out in our technical report, along with additional analysis from our own research.”

NAB 2015 had plenty to look at and plenty to talk about, but it also posed lots of questions about the future of broadcast audio. We’ll likely have to wait till 2016 for some of the answers.