by Steve Harvey
Fred Ampel of Technology Visions introduced the 5th annual Surround Live event, an all-day program for TV and radio broadcasters. New York, NY (October 11, 2007)–Fred Ampel’s Technology Visions, the AES and the Sports Video Group (SVG) prefaced the opening of the 123rd AES Convention last week with “Surround Live 5,” an all-day program of presentations, panels and technology briefings focused on producing 5.1 audio for television and radio broadcast.
Kurt Graffy of Arup Acoustics teed up the day’s proceedings with his keynote address on “The How and Why of Surround.” Graffy has coined a handy portmanteau word–physioceptualsophiacoustics–for the physiological, perceptual, philosophical and acoustical issues associated with the “transfer function” of moving audio from the source to the receiver. “It’s a big mess; you have to make intelligent choices about this transfer function,” he said, before detailing the influence of physiognomy on hearing, including difficulties with localization, the Fletcher-Munson equal loudness curves (now standardized as ISO 226) and the Haas effect.
Indeed, there’s little that can be done about the biology at the receiving end, but, as presenters throughout the day explained, broadcasters should do everything in their power to minimize those obstacles and present the best possible and most consistent experience to consumers. Not that the professionals didn’t have a learning curve to begin with: “There’s no manual on how to listen to surround,” noted Turner Studios’ Tom Sahara, who encouraged engineers under his charge to “learn to listen again,” he said.
Surround sound is still relatively new in broadcast, and there have been plenty of mistakes made as mixers and networks get to grips with it. Ron Scalise, an independent contractor who works with ESPN, played four egregious examples that featured poor lip sync, dialog in all the speakers and absent center channel dialog during a panel presented by the SVG.
Bruce Goldfarb from CBS Sports, on that same panel, outlined the network’s procedures and problems with field acquisition and also stressed training, reporting that he plays his busy engineers examples of other sports events they have no time to watch otherwise.
Consumers also need educating, observed renowned surround mixer, Fred Aldous, who works with Fox Sports and Turner Sports on NASCAR and NBA events. A lot of consumers are happy listening to a matrixed upmix of the stereo broadcast, not realizing the superiority of the discrete mix, he said. Sahara also stressed that, while consumers expect sound from every speaker all the time, the LFE is an effect channel, not a subwoofer, something that some pros didn’t understand at first either.
For those looking to further their craft, there are certainly plenty of tools available now. Throughout the event, which was also supported by Sennheiser and DiGiCo, attendees enjoyed technology presentations from Klein + Hummel, Dolby Laboratories, Neural Audio, TiMax Audio Imaging and beyerdynamic.