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Review of 2014: Part 4 – Immersed in sound

Acquisitions, athletics, AVB and Atmos… we reflect on the year that was

Pro audio’s summer of sport was also marked by tests into the possibility of 3D audio accompanying future World Cup broadcasts. “We are very enthusiastic about the prospect of 3D audio,” Host Broadcast Services’ senior engineering manager, Christian Gobbel, told PSNEuropein July. “Once you include a second layer of speakers, it’s amazing the difference you hear when you switch back to flat 5.1 – it sounds almost mono by comparison!”

HBS carried out a number of immersive audio tests during the tournament, making use of “a very special microphone from Schoeps”. “It is a very ambitious project, Gobbel said. “Even so, I think it could be a revolution in audio.” One for 2018, then?

In cinemas, Dolby Atmos, along with rival ‘immersive audio’ formats like Auro 11.1 and DTS Multi-Dimensional Audio (MDA), continued to change the way cinema audiences experience film sound – and manufacturers of cinema speakers, among them JBL Professional and QSC Audio Products, revealed that they are reaping the benefits. “There’s no question that the emergence and popularity of these new immersive sound formats has created yet another catalyst for sales of ‘B-chain’ technologies like processors, amplifiers, and loudspeakers,” commented Chuck Goodsell, senior manager, cinema, at JBL Professional.

For CinemaCon 2014 in March, QSC installed what it believes to be the largest cinema sound system ever assembled, at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas (pictured). It was also, naturally, the largest Dolby Atmos install ever.

In October, Belgian visual technology company Barco – the driving force behind Auro 11.1 – acquired Erfurt, Germany-based 3D audio specialist IOSONO and rebranded it Barco Audio Technologies.

Barco this year passed a landmark 500 planned Auro 11.1 installations – but the company’s senior director of strategic business development, Brian Claypool, is hoping for an end to the immersive sound format war in 2015. “Creating a standardised format for immersive sound is critical,” he said following the IOSONO announcement, “as it helps to control costs for content to be produced and distributed and will ultimately speed the adoption of immersive sound worldwide.”

Outside of the cinema, developers have been looking towards older technologies to create spatial audio – especially in broadcasting, where binaural recording, a technique thought by many to be long dead, is forming the basis for experiments into immersive audio by BBC R&D at MediaCityUK in Salford.

After producing a number of test recordings, including a radio drama production of The Wizard of Oz – which gave the sensation of objects being thrown about by the tornado that takes Dorothy to the fantasy land – and a recording of Elbow in concert, the BBC trialled full 3D sound on last Christmas’s Nine Lessons and Carols concert and radio drama Private Peaceful, although these were based on standard surround signals converted into binaural. According to Chris Pike, senior scientist with BBC R&D, “there are lots of potential applications for binaural sound, and when done really well it’s very convincing”.