DTV Audio Group’s AES Conclave Focuses on Hollywood

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The DTV Audio Group’s annual AES Show meeting this month took its cues from the event’s Los Angeles location to examine topics that reflect film and television’s turn toward immersive audio formats, the imminence of virtual-reality media, and the ongoing convergence of conventional and new media, via similar workflows, toolkits, and mind-sets.

dtv-audio-group-logo“With the explosion in streamed-content delivery to fixed and mobile devices accelerating the adoption of advanced audio services for television and broadcast, new possibilities in immersive sound, enhanced personalization, and improved bandwidth efficiency have emerged,” wrote DTVAG Executive Director Roger Charlesworth in the event’s outline. “Cinema-quality immersive soundtracks are now starting to show up on popular streaming platforms at the same time that VR is driving interest and innovation in personalization and virtualized surround sound on mobile devices. These issues can be addressed through understanding how Hollywood is coping with streamlining object workflows for episodic production and manage the loudness and consistency issues created by outdated format- and dynamic-range-limited encoding workflows still being used.”

The following panels were on the agenda: The Impact of VR on Immersivity and Personalization in Television, Evolving Tools for Object-Audio Postproduction, Challenges and Opportunities for Live Production Deliverables, and The Challenges of Loudness Management in Multiplatform Streamed Content Delivery.

RF on the Table
To start with, an audience of approximately 70 heard Audio-Technica VP, R&D/Engineering, Jackie Green review the RF situation in general and the spectrum auction in particular. Entering its second round, the reverse auction now sees less spectrum to be sold off — down to 114 MHz from 126 MHz. And, since initial sales numbers have not met expectations, more of the professional wireless spectrum in use today could remain legally accessible, with much of that still within the broadcast-friendly UHF range. Monitor the auction’s progress here.

Virtually Real
Speaking on the impact of VR and gaming on immersive audio, MediaMonks Global Director Ola Björling reminded the audience that virtual reality and its toolsets are still a work in progress. “It’s still early days,” he said, but added, “We can already create highly moving [VR] experiences.”

Turner Sports has been experimenting with VR for live productions, according to VP, Operations and Technology, Tom Sahara. Though acknowledging VR’s newness, he explained that short packaged pieces, such as a quick walk through the crowd at the Ryder Cup, made viewers “feel like they were part of the group.”

He extolled VR’s potential but cautioned that it needs to be used carefully to avoid overwhelming viewers and distracting from the narrative: “Think of VR as a time capsule in which we can capture a moment and go back and experience it fully.”

Discussing loudness management in multiplatform distribution, Jim Starzinski, director/principal audio engineer, NBC Universal, compared the predictable audio landscape of broadcast and the less predictable one for OTT television. Broadcasters solved the challenges of loudness management in the 5.1-surround environment after considerable, collaborative effort; now, he said, that cooperation has to be applied to volume-control standardization in a completely new and still largely undefined OTT environment: “The task is to bring [over-the-air] standards to OTT.”

Other panels and discussions looked at how object-based and personalized audio is already being applied to programs on the Starz network and Netflix and how file interchange and content management would fare when object-audio deliverables become more common. Starz’s Black Sails pirate-drama episodic, for instance, is already being delivered with 169 object-embedded audio tracks in Dolby’s Atmos format, along with versions in 7.1, 5.1, and 2.0 surround, plus M&E versions for foreign-language versioning.

Sports Is Always on the Agenda
If sports seemed somewhat absent from the proceedings, Charlesworth reminded that sports would be the primary focus of the New York meeting in December, as it always is at the NAB Show DTVAG meetings. Instead, the AES Show’s Los Angeles location was an opportunity to bring the Hollywood community into the conversation.

“There’s an ongoing convergence between IP and games and virtual reality and television, as well as next-gen and immersive audio,” he said. “So we devoted more time to looking at how all of those pieces are fitting together now. They all have implication for broadcast-sports audio, and we’ll pivot back to that in December in New York.

“Also,” he continued, “two years ago at this show in Los Angeles, we were talking about how Atmos television production was going to happen at some point. Now we’re hearing here from people who are already doing it.”

The DTVAG Forum at AES is produced in association with DTVAG’s parent organization, the Sports Video Group. Sponsors for this year’s DTVAG Forum included Calrec, DAD, Dale Pro Audio, Dolby Laboratories, JBL, Lawo, Linear Acoustic, Sanken, and Studer.

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