Broadcasters Make Presence Felt at AES
This past weekend, the Audio Engineering Society (AES) held its annual U.S. convention in New York City, and the location wasn’t lost on attendees and exhibitors: the needs of the broadcast community seemed to dominate more than at any other recent AES convention.
Setting the pace for the weekend were panels on such topics as lip sync and loudness and, particularly, a morning set of sessions overseen by the DTV Audio Group. Held on Oct. 11, the half-day session covered a wide range of top-of-mind audio topics.
Highlighting the DTV Audio Group offering was the dryly titled “Spectrum Changes Resulting in Extreme Frequency Coordination Issues,” which laid out the entire post-White Spaces landscape succinctly. The presentation raised some warning flags, pointing out that the number of unlicensed consumer wireless devices is proliferating at a nearly exponential rate and that the FCC’s goal of having up to eight devices able to operate without conflict in any given 6-MHz slot of spectrum is optimistic at best.
With the number of WiFi-enabled tablets expected to triple by the end of 2014 and the number of local WiFi hotspots enabling consumers to create their own mobile mini-networks almost anywhere increasing, stadiums and arenas are becoming dense briar patches of data, control, and voice signals.
Jackie Green, VP of R&D/engineering for Audio-Technica, pointed out that this underscores the need to look into commercially available software systems, such as RF Guru and Pro Wireless IAS, to help predict and track wireless spectrum usage; also, he noted, Websites like dtv.gov can provide RF mapping guides. But, with the FCC’s White Spaces management database still in an assembly and testing/comments stage, he added, there are no single-bullet solutions available yet.
That point was underscored by Rod Barton, who is an RF manager for Comcast and also has a role in managing RF coordination for the NFL. He discussed the Sisyphean task of trying to manage all the RF for a typical NFL game.
“There’s an enormous amount of RF at every NFL event,” he said, referring both to games and one-offs like the televised NFL Draft event. “We need more people and more coordination, because coordinating RF in this environment is a huge effort.”
Barton pointed out that the Super Bowl, perhaps the most RF-dense event in the world, requires as many as 40 wireless coordinators for the show and compels RF users to be assigned not only frequencies but day and hourly time slots for their operations. The NFL, he added, enforces compliance with the threat of withholding credentials to future league events.
Steve Silva, director of training for Fox, reported that the DTV Audio Group Online Training Initiative — backed by Fox, Turner, and NBC — is now up and running, offering learning and testing modules on topics including loudness, 5.1 surround mixing, and upmixing. But he was cautious in defining the initiative as a tutorial proposition, noting that it does not provide specific certification.
Although the CALM Act legislated loudness-control awareness, putting it into comprehensive practice is another matter, broadcasters have learned. At Comcast, said VP of Quality Assurance Dave Higgins, the matter is taken “very seriously.” Engineering staffs hold weekly meetings to review loudness-control implementation and listener feedback ingesting and analyzing such data as dialnorm from nearly 500 locations at its Dry Creek, CO, facility.
“We’ll measure the inbound MPEG stream and take automated measurements over time, and, if [it’s] out of tolerance with the dialog stamp, we’ll let them know,” he added. “But the challenge is ultimately with the local broadcasters downstream.”
Consumption of sports audio via mobile devices was put on the table by Tom Sahara, VP of operations and technology for Turner Sports. In “Metadata in a Mobile World,” he compared the well-developed and standardized home-technology environment with that of the mobile space, which is “busy, fast, noisy, and with many disparate devices and limited connectivity.”
The biggest issue, he said, will be how to create content that works across a multitude of platforms. “Can there be one copy of content across all media? The experience is driven by the devices’ configuration: portable has a small screen and earbuds; home has a large screen and speakers.”
Sahara specifically referenced the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, signed into law last year, which mandates captioning of television programs on the Internet, a closed-caption button on television remote controls, hearing-aid compatibility for Internet telephones, and communications equipment for individuals who are deaf and/or blind, among other stipulations. A key provision states that any programming that uses closed-captioning for broadcast must also provide that service for IP-distributed versions.
The router-based truck, with audio-mixing and signal-routing integrated into a single proposition, was outlined by Felix Krueckels, senior product manager at Lawo. He noted that the integrated router-console approach offers multiple processing steps — embed/de-embed, intercom-over-IP, D-to-A conversions — in a single environment. It is already prevalent in Europe and will become entrenched here, he predicted.
Kevin Cleary, senior technical audio producer for ESPN event operations, tacitly agreed, noting that the next truck on order for the network will have that configuration and will likely be the standard in a decade. However, he also voiced concerns that creating a single-system environment creates the potential for system-wide failure.
“I could be hesitant to put all the eggs in one router basket,” he said. “Anytime anyone puts everything in one box, there tends to be a lot of staring at that box, hoping nothing goes wrong. Bristol [ESPN’s Connecticut headquarters, which relies heavily on integrated routers] has a lot of redundancy, but you can’t build that into every remote vehicle. There has to be a level of [comfort] with a single-box theory.”
DTV Audio Group Director Roger Charlesworth countered that remote trucks already have lots of redundancy built in, such as multiple power supplies, and suggested that integrated-router systems could achieve the same level of confidence.
Courtney Spencer, managing partner at consulting firm CRX Partners, described migration to integrated-router design as “analogous to the shift in the [audio-]recording world from analog to digital.”
It all sets up what SVG expects to be a lot for broadcast sports audio to talk about in 2012.