Demos of ATSC 3.0 Immersive-Audio Format Offer Chance To Grow Alliances

This week’s special event organized by the ATSC S34-2 working group offered real-time comparisons of candidates for the audio aspect of the ATSC 3.0 standard. Although no conclusions are scheduled to be announced until the fall, the event, held in Atlanta, has become an opportunity for third-party broadcast-technology–equipment manufacturers to line up behind either Dolby’s AC-4 or the MPEG-H Audio Alliance of Fraunhofer, Technicolor, and Qualcomm.

Since listening demos began last Sunday, Jünger Audio, Vizio, and Harmonic announced new products related to the two immersive-audio formats.

Jünger Audio, which makes loudness control and audio processing for television broadcasting, showed a prototype multichannel monitoring, authoring, and loudness processor for the new MPEG-H TV audio system. This iteration of the company’s Level Magic processor allows broadcasters using the MPEG-H system to maintain compliance with loudness regulations while avoiding the processing artifacts of traditional loudness-control approaches.

“When we started to develop our multichannel monitoring and authoring unit for use with the proposed new immersive audio formats,” explains Peter Poers, managing director, Jünger Audio GmbH, “we knew that effective loudness control was going to be a vital requirement right from the beginning to ensure maximum audio quality and loudness that is consistent and compliant with existing regulations and recommendations.”

On Wednesday, Dolby Laboratories announced partnerships with Vizio and Sony Visual Products. The same day, video-delivery–infrastructure provider Harmonic revealed that it had conducted the world’s first live, on-air ATSC demo of Dolby AC-4. During the trial, PBS affiliate KQED-TV San Francisco used Harmonic’s Electra X2 advanced media processor for real-time video and AC-4 audio encoding, demonstrating how the Dolby AC-4 format improves bandwidth efficiency for broadcasters to enable delivery of enhanced audio content.

Bart Spriester, SVP, video products, Harmonic, called the event “a major and historic milestone for the next-generation format.”

The ATSC’s evaluation process for the 3.0 audio standard has been under way for nearly three years. The proposed systems will be tested discretely and in their entirety over the summer, to establish the ATSC 3.0 Audio System Candidate Standard, with the outcome expected to be announced this fall.

These tests, which involve both objective measurement and subjective listening, will be the first in the world to examine immersive audio for a next-generation broadcast-television standard. Immersive audio functionality enables high spatial resolution in sound-source localization in azimuth, elevation, and distance and provides an increased sense of sound envelopment throughout the listening area.

Audio “personalization” will include enhancements to the control of dialog, use of alternate audio tracks, and mixing of assistive audio services, other-language dialog, special commentary, and music and effects. ATSC 3.0 audio also will support both the normalization of content loudness and contouring of dynamic range, based on the specific capabilities of a user’s fixed or mobile devices and their unique sound environments.

Speaking by phone from the event location, Robert Bleidt, GM, audio and multimedia, Fraunhofer, one of the three companies in the MPEG-H Alliance, told SVG that, although these demonstrations aren’t part of the official ATSC 3.0 evaluation process, they do give broadcasters close-up and hands-on experience with the next generation of audio formats.

“This is the chance for broadcasters to check out how these systems work,” he said. “And it’s an opportunity for us to educate the market.”