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Tech Focus: Immersive Audio, Part 1 - The Infrastructure Is in Place

18/01/2023

Tech Focus: Immersive Audio, Part 1 - The Infrastructure Is in Place Rapid development in consoles, mics supports its use in broadcast sports By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 - 7:00 am

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Immersive audio didn't take a break during the pandemic lockdowns. Comcast Xfinity subscribers enjoyed Dolby Atmos for two Olympics in row: Tokyo and Beijing. NBC Sports has taken a lengthy lead in applying immersive sound for domestic sports, such as providing Dolby Atmos audio on its Notre Dame Football home games for three years as part of a package with 4K video. More recently, ESPN's broadcast of U.S. Open golf was done with an immersive 5.1.4 audio mix. The technology has been applied as well to UK Premier League matches and other games in Europe.

Immersive audio, it appears, has joined the broadcast-sports club.

That's due in large part to the relatively rapid development of hardware and software infrastructure to support immersive's implementation for broadcast sports. The developments include consoles capable of multiformat operation, fold-down systems that let broadcasters offer more-conventional audio configurations - stereo and 5.1 surround - while continuing to develop their immersive chops, and, more recently, hardware that lets networks capture more three-dimensional sound with fewer microphones.

CLICK HERE for Tech Focus: Immersive Audio, Part 2 - Software-Based Solutions Edge Into Consoles' Place.

CLICK HERE for Tech Focus: Immersive Audio, Part 3 - Multichannel Mics Are Coming of Age.

Microphones Make the Market The most recent and advanced iteration of microphone is Audio-Technica's BP3600 immersive-audio mic, which was released this month after more than three years of development and beta testing, including on Spain's Moto GP races. The BP3600 is designed to capture highly directional audio, which can be more precisely conveyed, via binaural technology, for consumer reproduction systems: specifically, headphones and earbuds. Eight discrete transducers in the BP3600 double the number used in most multi-capsule microphones and allow broadcasters to achieve a higher level of POV audio.

Audio-Technica's Gary Dixon: As [sports] moves to streaming, [distributors] will want ways to make their programming stand out. Audio is a way to accomplish that.

But acceptance of major new formats always has an economic component. The 8.0-channel transducer comes at a time when sports media is extending into the streaming realm, a migration that A-T Product Manager Gary Dixon predicts will stimulate demand for products and systems that make immersive audio easier and, particularly important, more economically efficient to achieve. A single-unit immersive-microphone solution, he contends, offers economic benefits to broadcasters as they do more REMI-type productions and deploy fewer personnel in the field. In fact, he says, the microphone is designed to be able to be set up out of the box by a single operator in approximately five minutes or less.

It's a way of programming demand, he says. Sports is king right now, and, as it moves to streaming, [distributors] will want ways to make their programming stand out. Audio is a way to accomplish that.

The price of the BP3600 is about $5,000, which will help with uptake among a wider range of broadcast and streaming users, including the burgeoning second-tier college-athletics sector. By comparison, manufacturer Schoeps' ORTF-3D outdoor 8-channel microphone bundle retails for $21,600. Immersive audio will benefit from the now-familiar digital dynamic: as format acceptance increases, hardware prices decline.

The use of more-exotic microphones has become part of the integration of immersive. Specifically, multi-transducer surround mics, like the DPA 5100 Mobile Surround microphone, are showing up on more broadcasts in general - such as on cameras as a way to add an LFE channel to handheld shots - and, in some cases, are replacing conventional shotgun microphones for Doppler-type shots in auto racing, where they can boost low-end clarity by eliminating proximity-effect issues.

These types of microphones have become standard for European soccer broadcasts; they can set up a soundstage for the lengthy wide shots of a soccer pitch that are common in those productions. In some cases, a surround mic will be installed in stadiums in Europe, usually in the venue rafters and pointed downward, to create a sonic surround baseline. That's rarely the case in the U.S., where most broadcasters bring their own, mostly conventional microphone complements to remote broadcasts.

On the Work Surface Immersive sound is part of the Next Gen Audio initiative, an element in the ATSC 3.0 portfolio, whose audio standards allow a full 7.1+4 implementation: up to seven channels of sound in a horizontal plane (although five have been most common), one channel for a subwoofer, and four channels overhead.

To meet that workflow, consoles have been working toward accommodating immersive audio for some time. For instance, Calrec's Impulse Core, the next-generation audio-processing platform for its Apollo and Artemis control surfaces, can accommodate 5.1, 5.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1, 7.1.2, and 7.1.4 formats in terms of input channels, buses, monitoring, and metering. Lawo's A__UHD Core immersive system, introduced at IBC 2018, can address immersive mixing configurations up to 22.2 and offers different levels of remote-operation functionality. An immersive-audio feature set was added to Solid State Logic's System T broadcast desk as part of a software release in 2018; subsequent updates have added real-time ambisonics A-format and B-format decoding, as well as binaural rendering, and forthcoming releases will provide monitoring up to 9.1.6.

Solid State Logic'
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2023/01/18/tech-focus-immersive-audio-part...
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