Audio for Friday Night Baseball on Apple+ Is at Streaming’s Leading Edge
Apple Spatial Audio codec is being applied to the production’s 5.1 surround sound
It has been a fertile year for streaming sports. Apple’s Apple+ platform began streaming Friday-night MLB games this season, and Amazon Prime will carry NFL games on Thursday nights this fall. As bleeding-edge as that is, though, the audio may be mostly what fans are accustomed to hearing — at least for now.
According to Glenn Stilwell, an A1 for the MLB Network, the productions he has been building for Apple+, deploying Game Creek mobile units, are mostly the same 5.1 surround soundtracks he has mixed for conventional broadcast for years.
“But,” he says, “we’re adding some things beyond what we do for the MLB Network shows, such as player mics and more crowd microphones as well as extra graphics. We’re delivering them to the standards Apple gives us, but, otherwise, it’s the same show.”
The feed travels from the truck to MLB Network’s studio/production facility in Secaucus, NJ, and then, via signal-transport specialist LTN Global, to Apple. “The delivery method,” Stilwell notes, “is exactly the same as it is for television.”
What’s not exactly the same is that Apple is apparently applying its Spatial Audio format to the production’s sound. An Apple press release describes the format as “enabled,” and viewers need certain accessories to fully experience Spatial Audio on the stream. For instance, to access audio features — dynamic head tracking, surround effects — viewers need Apple’s AirPods or Beats Fit Pro headphones, as well as Mac iOS 15.1 or later.
Apple’s Spatial Audio format can support various audio formats, including 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos. Stilwell notes that the productions can be adapted to include Atmos at any time in the future via a 10-channel PCM mix that would be sent off to transmission to be encoded into Atmos on Dolby Digital Plus.
“There is the assumption that going to 5.1.4 will happen at some point,” says Stilwell. “We thought it would happen in the first year; now we’re hoping for the second year. We’re ready for it.”
Other audio elements of this season’s Apple+ streamed baseball coverage include on-screen callouts about batters’ walk-up songs from Apple Music. In addition, viewers can test their knowledge of baseball trivia with help from Apple’s iconic Siri. And, in a first for MLB games, Friday Night Baseball will feature rules analysis and interpretation by former MLB umpire Brian Gorman.