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US goes CALM on loudness

Kevin Hilton 19 December 2012
US goes CALM on loudness

The US CALM Act covering television loudness went into full force last week, giving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the power to fine any broadcasters exceeding specified guidelines. In Europe the PLOUD group continues to develop its R128 specification with the aim of creating a world loudness mode instead of just an EBU mode. The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) law was signed on to the American statute books in December 2010 by President Barack Obama, who said at the time he backed the legislation because he didn’t want to "keep on picking up the clicker" while he was watching the game. The technical basis of the CALM Act is the A/85 specification drawn up by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). Like R128 this is based on the first international loudness algorithm, ITU-R BS 1770. The average loudness target under A/85 is -24 LUFS (Loudness Units relative to Full Scale), while R128 works to -23 LUFS. US broadcasters were given two years after CALM became law to implement loudness monitoring techniques and equipment. As from 13 December this year the FCC is able to impose fines on any broadcasters or cable operators not adhering to A/85. In the last few months there were signs some broadcast organisations were not ready and would apply for extensions but the general picture coming out of the US is that most are either complying or on their way to compliance. Tim Carroll, president of loudness monitoring system manufacturer Linear Acoustic, observes that broadcasters will adopt A/85 for the simple reason that it will add to viewer satisfaction. "Satisfied viewers also help promote good ratings and thus revenue," he says. "What broadcaster would not want these things – especially revenue? A/85 and its companion EBU R128 go a long way towards helping clarify real-world practice. In general, regulations provide the muscle often needed to promote change. But we hope that the ultimate goal of satisfying viewers with consistent and high-quality audio, thus achieving de facto compliance, is not obscured by the words [of the specifications]." The PLOUD working group, which drew up R128 and its supporting documents, held a meeting in Vienna at the beginning of December to discuss on-going developments, plus potential loudness specification for radio and music recording. Speaking at the Loudness Summit in London a few days later, PLOUD chair and senior sound engineer at ORF Florian Camerer said the aim was to have as much conformity between standards as possible so "in future every loudness meter behaves the same way". More European countries are implementing loudness regulations or guidelines, with VRT, the Flemish language broadcaster in Belgium, adopting R128 during the first quarter of 2013. Spainish broadcasters are said to be ready with the technology but are waiting for the government to pass loudness laws. PLOUD has also formed a sub-group to address the problem of loudness in radio broadcasting. Swiss public broadcaster SRG SSR switched to R128 at the end of February this year, the same time it started HD and file-based operations. It is now looking at applying what it has learned about loudness in TV to radio. German manufacturer RTW has launched a specific loudness device for radio. The TMR7 (pictured) is part of the TouchMonitor range and is a four-channel system with two AES3 digital inputs. It includes ITU metering, as well as LRA loudness range measurement and true peak for R128 compliance. 

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