Partly in response to complaints about mixing levels of music and voice on some of its programmes, BBC Vision has published a new ‘audibility report’, which has been co-written with pressure group Voice of the Listener and Viewer (VLV).
The Beeb has already published best practice guidelines for producers on how to achieve the clearest sound, in the studio, on location and in post production. Kevin Hilton, writing in Pro Sound News Europe, points out that the effect of these guidelines doesn’t really extend into individuals’ viewing and listening environments, and producers can’t cater for all tastes with their mixing decisions.
So, if it can be deployed practically, a technical solution from Fraunhofer IIS that hands ultimate control of the mix to viewers and listeners could be a godsend. The technology allows users to increase and decrease the volume of speech against crowd noise, music or other background audio.
Stereo clean feeds of the effects mics on Centre Court and a mono clean feed of the commentary were taken, pre-fader, to a second technical position in the broadcast area, where they were fed into the Fraunhofer player and server for streaming. As much as possible, the operator rode the levels on both effects and commentary so listeners didn’t have to constantly fiddle with the balance once it had been set. The feed was put alongside HDTV pictures to approximate the look, sound and feel of a future TV version.
While a programme may be mixed in mono, stereo or 5.1, the final mix also includes ‘side information’, as Fraunhofer calls it, relating to individual dialogue and effects elements. As Kevin describes it:
“This additional material is carried as part of a mono/stereo compatible downmix, which is transmitted as a single mix along with the parametric additional data.
The side information is then decoded by specially equipped TV sets or radio receivers, which effectively produce two individual channels – dialogue or commentary and crowd atmosphere or sound effects and music. The viewer or listener can then use controls on a handset to have either more speech or more background.”
The BBC found that half of listeners boosted the commentary, and half the effects. Which way would you expect to jump on that?
Fraunhofer believe the technology will find a market not only with hearing impaired listeners and viewers who want dialogue to be more intelligible, but with sports fans who prefer the roar of the crowd to the TV commentary. It’s likely to take two to four years to deploy on domestic TVs, according to a Fraunhofer spokesman. Is it a tool that you can see taking off, and would you be a regular user?