Dr. AIX's POSTS — 09 March 2015

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What do you call surround sound that uses more than the usual 5.1 or 7.1 channels? Is it 3D Audio? Not according to the NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) and the AES. The new name is “immersive audio” and Sunday’s conference sessions were all focused on this next generation theatrical sound delivery experience. The opening keynote address was delivered by Francis Ramsey. He gave a very thorough overview of the recent trends in immersive audio and traced the introduction of Auro 3D, Dolby’s Atmos system, and DTS’s MDR format. It was not a coincidence that all of the AES sessions were held in a theater equipped with ceiling mounted speakers.

The morning papers sketched out a few of the major topics and included “Properties of Large-Scale Sound Field Synthesis” presented by Jens Ahrens from the University of Berlin. His paper focused on the difficulties in recreating real world sound using arrays of speakers. It turns out that low frequency sounds are relatively easier to reproduce than frequency higher than about 500-100 Hz. The interference patterns and reflections from the acoustic space cause all sort of problems.

The next paper was about “nouvOson: How a Public Radio Broadcaster Makes Immersive Audio Accessible to the General Public”. The presenter was Herve Dejardin. In March of 2013, Radio France launched a new part of its website, called nouvOson (for New Sound), to broadcast binaural and 5.1 surround sound. The binaural format was chosen to support listeners that don’t have domestic 5.1 surround systems. The paper described how Radio France developed their application and how they support the delivery of both audio formats. The presenter didn’t discuss where the multichannel source material was coming from. I suspect that classical orchestras and other non-commercial producers of surround music are supporting the site. There just isn’t any pop/rock recordings being mixed in surround…or certainly not enough to keep a website stocked.

The next paper was about Ambisonics and was presented by Matthais Frank of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria. “Ambisonics is a 3D (should it be called immersive now?) recording and playback method that is based on the representation of the sound field excitation as a decomposition into spherical harmonics”, according to the blurb in the AES handout. This methodology has been around for a long time, I experienced in almost 10 years ago when I gave a paper at a 2007 London AES conference. The presenter discussed current trends in Ambisonics and a VST plugin that allows engineers to work with it in their own Digital Audio Workstations. The really cool thing about Ambisonics is that the recordings can be completely re-tweaked during postproduction. Following the presentations, the audience got to hear a demonstration of Ambisonics.

I have serious doubts about the viability of “immersive audio” as it pertains to theatrical sound…and apparently so do movie patrons. In a recent survey of moviegoers, most couldn’t tell the difference between normal surround 5.1 theatrical sound and the new and improved “immersive” enhancements. Theater owners, movie studios, and postproduction houses will need to adjust their workflow and delivery strategies if this manages to take off.

Several professionals discussed this very issue on a panel. Which system will dominate, how can they simply DCP (digital cinema packages) deliveries, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of going “immersive”? Time will tell.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(6) Readers Comments

  1. Wow! Ambisonics. Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time! I’ve wondered on a few occasions if Atmos or Aura3D took any cues from Ambisonics technology of if it is completely different stuff.

    • Not really, different technologies. The Atomos system uses object based audio. Ambisonics uses an array of microphones that can be combined and adjusted to produce compelling soundfields.

  2. Just fine for theater sound I guess, but why is there always a bunch of competing formats whenever something new comes out?
    As for home systems, forgetaboutit. When are they going to learn that the average home theater buyer has neither the room, $, desire, wife acceptance, etc,,etc, for any of these systems beyond the 5.1s they struggled to get up and running for all the reasons listed earlier.
    Is it all about the money or are the designers and manufacturers honest in their belief that the market really needs and wants this huge expansion of their home technology.
    I guess I’m just mentally blocked that their is enough people with the desire and means to support 9.2 channels in Lord knows how many different formats for a SOTA Home Theater.
    I apologize, guess its just me, I can’t understand how today’s High End Audio stereo market is able to keep itself afloat when I look at the cost of a complete Stereophile Class A system? It could easily swallow up half a million and that’s just for 2 channel stereo. My head spins.
    God Bless Everyone and enjoy your prosperity.
    Sal

  3. Hi Mark.. I know this is way off topic but I wanted to hear your opinion on HDCD, XRCD vs SACD, DVD-A

  4. I have yet to year Atmos at a commercial theater as there are no commercial theaters in the Philly market. I have attended a private demo given by Dolby in NYC and have heard a couple Atmos discs at a friend’s home who is a reviewer. It is definitely a worthwhile upgrade. However, it seems to me that it is best suited to action movies although it can work wonders with music recorded in a large space. The real key to immersive sound and Atmos in particular is the upmixer for use with non encoded Atmos mixes. I have heard it take a 2 channel recording with a ton of the room audible and totally surround you with the room, giving the illusion of being in a room with a 20 foot ceiling. However, you will need a new AVR or pre/pro, maybe another amp, possibly in ceiling speakers, etc. While I am interested, I am waiting for the 4K standards to be set and implemented in both the hardware and software before spedning money on immersive audio. I do look forward to it though. Maybe by the end of 2016.

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