DTV Audio Group Event at the SVG Summit Goes Down to the Wire

Like the sleeper between the New  York Jets and the Tennessee Titans the weekend before, the last 10 minutes of the DTV Audio Group’s event at the SVG Summit (Dec. 15-16) turned into a wild and riveting ride.

The group’s set agenda was conventional enough, with updates on the continued rocky path of RF spectrum reallocation. Audio-Technica brought a well-illustrated and detailed recap of spectrum changes since the turn of the century, while Broadcast Sports, Inc. underlined what will likely be the complete disappearance of the UHF band for professional use as the industry looks for solutions, in other parts of the spectrum and beyond, to IP-based solutions. Peter Larsson’s presentation included the Darwinesque prediction that future spectrum occupancy will be on a “share or displace” basis, noting further that BAS (broadcast auxiliary service) channels in the 2-GHz range have a little to offer in the way of additional spectrum for operations such as comms.

The spectrum squeeze has prompted some market-based technology responses. At the DTV Audio event, start-up Radio Active Designs showed its recently introduced UV-1G wireless intercom system, whose proprietary Enhanced Narrow Band algorithm technology asserts to address spectral overcrowding by using the VHF band.

Education Addressed
The event took time to commend the work done on the two online education modules the DTV Audio Group has launched thus far; most recently, a tutorial on 5.1 surround operations that followed a previous one last year on loudness management and control. The newer tutorial has had its table of contents revised and now also includes information on dialog intelligibility and insights into mixing multichannel broadcast sound from veteran A1s.

The Phoenix-based Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences reviewed its 36-week audio education curriculum, which this year was expanded to include broadcast sound aboard the school’s own purpose-built remote truck, which has allowed a dozen students at a time to do non-broadcast but real-time mixes of MLB and NASCAR events on site and with oversight and input from A1s who mix those shows.

Turning Up the Heat
But like any good game, it got truly interesting towards the end, when a discussion about immersive audio formats and object-based audio unexpectedly revealed sentiments that 5.1 itself remains “unfinished business,” in one participant’s words. Issues such as lack of global applications standards for 5.1, the fact that content material from diverse sources is often substantially different in quality, and how matrixed and discrete iterations of 5.1 continue to coexist suggested to a number of those present that 5.1 requires more attention before broadcast sports can viably consider implementing double-digit channel counts. Ironically, it was also pointed out that streaming can already accept more complex audio configurations, and that they may be seen used on tablets before they show up on televisions. Others, noting that some networks are currently working with file-based object video, wondered if “audio is being left behind” before it even gets any traction for these new formats, even as another flatly declared that “11.2 is pie in the sky, for now.”

But once the conversation took up immersive and object-based sound in earnest, it was clear that these new formats would have plenty of points of contention of their own, particularly when the overlay of personalization — the ability to let the viewer control some of the mix elements, such as language choice and announcer location — entered the discussion. Protocols will have to be created that determine which elements might be eligible for viewer-centric manipulation and which are off limits. Those decisions will have far-reaching implications: announcers often include paid promotional inserts in their patter, and if home viewers were able to disable the announce channel, it could have significant negative revenue implications for broadcasters. It will be a delicate balance that will have to be achieved; as one network sports audio executive noted, “I don’t want to offer to put all of my tools in the hands of consumers, but I do want to be able to offer them some control over what they hear.”

The issue of how much more of a burden higher channel counts would put on A1s also came up, with some wondering if they would add considerably to the work load of busy mix engineers working in highly charged environments, and others who believe that juggling six channels has been good practice for denser new formats, with the possibility of mixes being handled from a central remote location for multiple games helping that.

In any event, immersion and personalization of audio will reflect changes at the cultural level when they arrive. As Dennis Baxter, veteran Olympics A1 and system designer pointed out, where U.S. mixers and audiences tend to put a lot of emphasis on natural sound and effects, such as bat cracks in baseball, he discovered that when German viewers watched soccer, what they wanted to hear were the crowds. Their highly partisan crowds. “They’re not that interested in the sound of the foot on the ball,” he said.

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