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2012 broadcast year in review – buildings versus technology

New loudness regulations across Europe, the continuing march of audio over IP, facility ups and downs and new takes on surround sound. PSNEurope looks back at a year of broadcast news.

The audio for broadcast technology theme of 2012 is less about a new trend or technique sweeping away the status quo but a maturing of several existing technologies and showing the way ahead for television and radio sound.

Broadcasters might not be in full agreement about surround sound just yet but research and experiment pushed on this year to find an immersive audio format beyond not just stereo but 5.1 as well, which will be the right partner for high definition, 3D stereoscopic or Ultra High Vision.

BBC R&D is basing its research on Ambisonics to deliver height as well as width and length for surround sound. In June the EU FascinatE (Format-Agnostic SCript-based INterAcTive Experience) project demonstrated Ambisonic-based surround, captured using the SoundField microphone and Eigenmike (pictured), with panoramic visuals.

The London 2012 Olympics were certain to feature new technology but getting details on even the most basic installations proved difficult and frustrating due to non-disclosure agreements, corporate protectionism and general paranoia. Footage was shot in Ultra High Vision at four venues, with 22.2 audio captured using a special “Globe” microphone rig.

Broadcasters know a proportion of audiences are now watching on smart phones and tablets, meaning they listen using head or earphones. IRT and Sisvel Technology demonstrated Binaural Room Synthesis (BRS) at this year’s CeBIT show, with the sound of a 5.1 room recreated for headphones.

Dolby addressed both headphones and big movie theatres during 2012. On the immersive cinema side it announced an object-based system, Atmos, in April and during July bought Spanish developer Imm Sound, which had been working on similar technology. DTS had already bolstered its multi-channel audio capability by taking over SRS Labs earlier that month.

At the same time Dolby is looking at surround sound being the format of choice for mobile services to deliver better clarity and quality. There appeared to be greater acknowledgement in broadcasting and consumer video manufacture that with the high usage of headphones as well as hi-fi or home cinema systems, people want something decent to listen to.

The influence of mobile was also shown during IBC by Fraunhofer demonstrating MPEG HE-AAC (High Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding) surround sound streamed from an Android 4.1 phone on to a big TV monitor with a 5.1 system.

Loudness control and monitoring continued to be an operational and regulatory reality during 2012, even though some doubts and confusion over the different, albeit similar, standards remain. Public and commercial TV stations in Germany and broadcasters in Austria officially adopted R128, while the UK is working towards a common policy, also based on the EBU format, though the Digital Production Partnership (DPP). Manufacturers showed their willingness in this area, with Studer integrating RTW monitors into its consoles. UK developer Emotion Systems addressed loudness control in file-based production with the eFF program, which clocked up its first sale to London visual effects house The Mill in February.

Facilities usually make the headlines in any given year but bricks and mortar dominated much of the coverage during 2012. There was the ongoing saga of whether Twickenham Film Studios would close – it was eventually saved and its Sound Centre is now being upgraded with AMS Neve consoles and Pro Tools HD X – while Warner Bros Studios in the UK finally bought audio post house De Lane Lea after much speculation and denial.

The BBC spent much of the year in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, including arguments over the sale of Television Centre to property development company Stanhope PLC. The new owners committed to redevelop the site with three HD/5.1 studios by 2015, with BBC Studios and Post Production spending the interim at the BBC and commercial studios in Elstree. The World Service left Bush House for the “new” Broadcasting House, also home now to BBC Radio 1 and its VCS/Studer based operations.

Behind many of the broadcast audio events of 2012 was the steady rise of IP, providing the network infrastructure as well as contribution connectivity. Telecoms continued to be a bogeyman through spectrum reallocation in favour of 4G networks and the coming of white space devices.

A more positive influence of mobile telecom technology as far as broadcasters were concerned was the use of HD Voice over 3G for the speech reports covering the Olympic Torch Relay. Audio quality was clearly superior to the blocky, shaky pictures coming over IP connections, marking another high point for sound in a busy TV and radio year.