NEW YORK, NY—While much of this year’s AES Convention was about exploring what’s brand-new in pro audio, the Broadcast/Streaming Media track looked far beyond the cutting edge, directly into the future. Case in point: The Audio for 4K TV panel, which found industry leaders discussing different potential avenues for future broadcast audio standards.
The panel included Robert Bliedt, Fraunhofer USA Digital Media; Tim Carroll, Linear Acoustic; Dave Casey, DTS; Poppy Crum, Dolby; Robert Orban, Orban; Robert Reams, Psyx Research; Jim Starzynski, NBC Universal; and panel chair Jonathan Abrams, Nutmeg Post.
Kicking things off, Starzynski stumped for ATSC—Advanced Television Systems Committee—the technical standard setting organization for TV in the US, explaining the creation and goals of ATSC S34-2, a recently formed 50-member subgroup charged with choosing the audio system for ATSC 3.0 that will become the successor to AC-3.
Characterizing the subgroup’s work as “a format opportunity,” Starzynski noted that it would be looking to learn from the past—”Some of the things we didn’t get right with ATSC 1.0”— and take into consideration a variety of factors that the new format will need to address, including creating an ultimate sound experience for the end user, standardization concerns, an ability to be globalized, quality, enhanced services, ability to establish efficient workflows, end-user experiences on small devices and more.
Following soon after was Robert Orban, who provided an overview of what 4K’s adoption will mean for audio. “New physical layer specifications create the opportunity to specify the most modern, highest-efficiency codecs, allowing higher quality to be transmitted within a given budget...[ but] it is unclear if there are advantages to going beyond the audio quality capabilities of today’s Blu-ray discs,” he said, adding, “Ultimately, 4K will not succeed if it is driven by manufacturers (planned obsolescence), content creators (anti-piracy), and not by real consumer needs. If they are to pay higher prices, consumers must perceive extra value.”
Tim Carroll got right to the point, stressing the importance of robust audio metadata as 4K takes off. “Getting 22.2 or likely more channels, plus tightly synchronized metadata from production to transmission, is going to be a formidable challenge,” he conceded, noting that lax or missing metadata will make such problems “at least 22.2 times worse.”
Soon after, presenters from Fraunhofer and DTS discussed challenges and approaches to creating an appropriate audio experience for consumers, with Casey noting that audio for 4K shouldn’t necessarily mean 3D audio, referencing the relative failure of 3D TV in recent times, while Bliedt noted that the 4K audio experience will have to keep up with consumer expectations bolstered by what they’ve heard in cinemas with Dolby Atmos or the 3D audio that will arrive inside German car systems in 2015.