Demystifying the black art of digital audio


Alan Wheable TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online
by Alan Wheable
Issue 79 - July 2013
At the pure analogue end of the audio world (which these days is very narrow with much of the audio content being captured digitally) it is quite straight forward to check that an audio channel is present, that it sounds right and has the right levels. Likewise if the audio channel has hum or a buzz on it is relatively easy to identify the problem and fix it.

In the digital audio world where multiple digital audio channels are being delivered at different bit rates, as PCM or in a variety of compression formats, as mono, stereo or surround sound (in many flavours) for use in HDTV, DVD, Cable, Satellite, internet, mobile phone, etc, it can be nearly impossible to spot where things are going wrong let alone work out how to fix them.

The daily use of technologies such as Dolby E, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus in all areas of broadcast television content delivery requires an understanding of the importance of metadata, the transport mechanism as well as the tools to check them.

Digital Audio is a very broad and sophisticated subject area so here I will only focus on the specific challenges around Dolby E, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus as part of a SDI transport stream.

Dolby formats in common use in media distribution


There are a number of Dolby digital audio standards that transport audio data within the SMPTE 337M-2000 data burst or AES audio and embedded within the SDI data stream. These include:

- Dolby E
- Dolby Digital
- Dolby Digital Plus

These standards can be used to transport mono, stereo, 5.1 and 7.1 audio programmes:

Dolby 5.1 uses five channels for normal-range speakers (20 Hz 20,000 Hz) (right front, centre, left front, surround right and surround left) and one channel (20 Hz 120 Hz allotted audio) for the subwoofer driven low-frequency effects.

Dolby 7.1 (non broadcast) uses six channels in the primary program (Independent Substream) for a standard 5.1 surround sound mix and then the remaining 2 channels in an ancillary programme (Dependent Substream) to provide the additional down-mix version.

Dolby E

Dolby E is a video frame-based audio encoding and decoding technology developed by Dolby Laboratories that allows up to 8 channels of audio (mono, stereo, 5.1 or 7.1) for a primary programme (Programme 1) and optional ancillary programs. These 8 channels are compressed into a digital stream that can be transferred between compatible devices and stored on a standard stereo pair of audio tracks.

Dolby E is primarily a production format that allows the relatively transparent movement of a finished Dolby Surround Sound audio programme, via SD-SDI, HD-SDI or 3G-SDI, through the production chain until it reaches the point of transmission where it is converted to Dolby Digital or Dolby Digital Plus. As Dolby E is frame-based it allows simple editing such as cuts that do not affect the audio.

Dolby Digital

Dolby Digital (AC-3) is a perceptual audio system for digital audio that allows the reduction of data needed to deliver high-quality sound. This system relies on the fact that the human ear will screen out certain levels of sound that are perceived to be noise. The removal of this noise reduces the amount of data needed to deliver the sound to the listener. This system was developed primarily for DTV, DVD and HDTV.

Dolby Digital technology was developed by Dolby LaboratoriesTM to allow up to six channels of sound (mono, stereo or 5.1) in the form of a single program that can be delivered at different bit rates. These 6 channels are compressed (lossy) into a digital stream that can be broadcast.

Dolby Digital Plus Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3) is a more advanced version of Dolby Digital that provides a more efficient encoding algorithm that provides enough bandwidth to support sophisticated multi-programme content combining mono, stereo, 5.1, 7.1 & 13.1 for a primary programme (Programme 1) and optional ancillary programs that can be delivered at much lower bit rates than Dolby Digital. These programme channels are compressed (lossy) into multiple independent digital data stream plus up to 8 dependent sub stream that can be transferred between compatible devices and stored on a standard stereo pair of audio tracks.

HANC Encoding

Unlike PCM audio the Dolby data burst contains both the encoded audio channels as well as metadata. This Dolby metadata carries specific information about the encoded surround sound audio including the Dolby encoding method, the number and type of audio channels and the specific matrix coefficients required to re-assemble the surround sound audio at the receiver. The Dolby metadata is be delivered to the receiver with the encoded audio channels to ensure that the correct audio levels and the correct channel separation.

The complexity of Dolby encoding, its metadata and its transport using HANC SMPTE 337M data packet embedded within the SDI data, means that it is susceptible to video timing, switching issues, decoding and encoding and the insertion of additional broadcast metadata within the broadcast chain. It is therefore important to be able to analyse the metadata at each stage to ensure that all data is transmitted transparently and decoded successfully at its final destinations.

The header information within the Dolby E and Dolby Digital encoded audio package is used by Dolby decoders to identify specific encoding method used.

In the case of Dolby E, if this header information is missing then the audio is assumed to be PCM which can effectively cause a full scale noise burst that can damage audio monitoring equipment. Only when the next frame where a valid Dolby E header appears, will the Dolby circuitry be able to decode the data correctly.

In the case of Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus, if this header information is missing, or if the Dolby programme is interrupted, then the audio is assumed to be PCM which can effectively cause a full scale noise burst that can damage audio monitoring equipment. Only when the next valid Dolby Digital header appears will the Dolby circuitry decode the data correctly. Note that this occurs every 3072 audio data samples.

Things to look out for In most cases it has to be assumed that the actual Dolby Surround Sound programme data is correct as it is difficult to interpret without decoding it first to its base band channels. When moving SDI video containing Dolby audio around a facility the highest risks of failure are likely to be the caused by timing issues that critically affect the detection of the Dolby header as well as interruptions or corruptions of the data stream.

Dolby E Framing Values


A Dolby E encoded audio programme is a video frame-based system whose data occupies the area of ancillary data normally occupied by the AES/EBU PCM audio. Unlike PCM audio that can tolerate video switching anywhere within a large range of lines in the vertical interval, Dolby E has a narrow guard band which contains no audio and in which video switching can take place without loss of critical Dolby header information.

The Dolby Reference Point (immediately following the Dolby guard band) is where the encoded Dolby E audio packet starts. This can be defined as specific video lines and timed approximately 700s ±80S from the SMPTE RP156 Reference Point. It is important for the Dolby E packet to be positioned well away from the video switching line so that Dolby E packets are not corrupted by downstream switchers. Test equipment such as the Sx hand held range with Dolby option can measure the timing of the Dolby E packet relative to the SDI input or the External reference as shown in Figure 1.

Corruption of Dolby Metadata

As mentioned earlier, the Dolby metadata contained with the audio data burst is as important as the encoded audio itself. Equipment such as play-out servers, that store complete Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus video/audio programs, must deliver the Dolby data burst exactly as it was created otherwise it will not be decoded correctly at the receiver.

Equipment that decodes and re-encodes the video/audio data stream must re-assemble the data stream exactly to ensure that it can be decoded by the receiver as intended.

It can be difficult to inspect or interpret a Dolby data stream as it is passes through a broadcast chain. It can be more useful to inject a known Dolby program with known metadata values and then check at each stage in the broadcast chain that the injected program and metadata is the same.

Equipment such as the PHABRIX Sx hand held and PHABRIX Rx rack mount systems allow the generation of Dolby E, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus metadata and test tones embedded within an SDI data stream so that closed loop testing of any equipment can be performed.

Dolby CRC and SMPTE Pa/Pb Sync Word Spacing

There are a number of critical measurements that can be used to ensure that the Dolby data burst is correct:

The Dolby data burst provides a CRC word for each data burst. This allows the integrity of the Dolby audio data to be checked by the receiving equipment.

With Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus, the audio data burst is a constant length each frame and is bounded by the SMPTE 377M-2000 Pa and Pb sync words. If this spacing is incorrect, or changes during a programme, it can indicate that the data burst is not generated correctly or that it is corrupt. It may not be possible to detect random Pa/Pb spacing changes or CRC errors during a program transmission so it is may be necessary to log these errors for later analysis.

Dolby Programme Combinations

Dolby programs can consist of mono channels, stereo pairs, 5.1 surround sound and 7.1 surround sound and even 13.1 surround sound as Main, Dependent or Independent programme streams. There are a large number of possible programme combinations that are permitted by Dolby E, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus and therefore equipment manufacturers and installers need to test all of these combinations to ensure that they are compliant. Products such as the PHABRIX Sx hand held and Rx rack mount equipment allow the automated testing of each of the possible combinations to ensure compliance.

Audio Buzz

When Dolby encoded audio is not processed or decoded correctly it can produce a distinctive audio buzz. If the audio programme is interrupted the decoder may repeat the same audio segment repeatedly unit the programme is restored.

Conclusion

At first sight Dolby audio encoding looks like a black art but in reality it is only a black art if you dont have an understanding of the principles that have been adopted and the equipment to analyse it. As I said in my introduction that if you can hear the audio you can tell if it is alright. With Dolby E, Dolby Digital and Dolby® Digital Plus its a bit like the Matrix where you have to concentrate on the moving letters and symbol to see the picture. Or in this case see the audio[1].

Digital audio is here to stay and will steadily become more sophisticated as more and more programme content is delivered over increasingly narrow channels but with the expectation of increasingly higher quality. So to deliver this expectation we need to tool-up, both our understanding of digital audio as well the equipment required to do so.

[1] If you view the audio data stream on a monitor as pulse cross, it looks a bit like the cascading symbol view of the Matrix from the film of the same name.
[2] Dolby® E, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus are trademarks of Dolby Laboratories¢


Tags: iss079 | phabrix | dolby | formats | common media distribution | guide | sound | 5.1 | digital plus | Alan Wheable
Contributing Author Alan Wheable

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Contributing Author Chris Thornton Click to read or download PDF
Listening to the needs of audio engineers
Alan Wheable Monitoring SDI video content within an installation is and has always been straight forwards. If you have a monitor, and you can see the image correctly, all is well. This is not necessarily the case for metadata and especially not for audio.
Tags: iss131 | omnitek | audio monitoring | aes | ebu | smpte 2110 | st2110 | smpte 352 | dolby | Alan Wheable
Contributing Author Alan Wheable Click to read or download PDF
UHD 4k and HDR Picture Quality
Tobias Kronenwett And as good as it is, and as easy as it is to do, one of the raps on HDR is that some feel that it’s so bright and sharp that it looks odd, unnatural, almost harsh. It’s similar to when we did our first trials with 4K. The resolution was so high you could easily see, for example, even very minor blemishes. It’s perhaps an irony of new technology that the higher the resolution of natural objects the more artificial they tend to look. It’s often a case of capturing images with more resolution or a greater colour space than our eyes and brains can actually perceive.
Tags: iss131 | sonovts | uhd | 4k | hdr | oled | Tobias Kronenwett
Contributing Author Tobias Kronenwett Click to read or download PDF
What is Next for Broadcast
David Schleifer The Broadcast industry is always chasing new technology. Some of that technology is further than it appears to be, and some of it is closer to adoption than it seems. In part, early adopted technology is accelerated because of customer or business demands, and in the case of IP based environments, the driving factors are speed, cost reduction, and flexibility of workflow. To counterbalance these efficiency-based factors is a desire by content creators and customers to see more 4K HDR content on their new big screens. In some ways the push to deliver 4K workflows also makes the need to manage cost/performance even more urgent.
Tags: iss131 | 4k | primestream | hdr | hls | mpeg dash | rtsp | rtmp | streaming | David Schleifer
Contributing Author David Schleifer Click to read or download PDF
Slow Motion Video Techniques
Phil Vinter Well, those kinds of higher frame rates still pretty much belong to the big guns. The Phantom Flex will give you 2,000 frames a second at ultra HD or 1,000 fps at 4K. It produces truly stunning images, but at a price that is beyond the reach of all but those with the biggest budgets. The camera retails at a cool £100,000 (I’ll have three please) with a daily hire out charge of around £3,000 (including lighting and a technician). IDT’s OS series cameras produce equally high quality images at a cheaper price, but you’re still talking tens of thousands.
Tags: iss131 | slo-mo | phantom | idt | fs7 | fs5 | rx10 mk111 | hfr | Phil Vinter
Contributing Author Phil Vinter Click to read or download PDF
The Pitfalls of Online File Sharing and Sending Services
Mike Nash Easy-to-use, readily-accessible, and consumer-oriented, online file sharing platforms such as Dropbox and Google Drive are, to end users, a pleasant replacement to older file transfer methods such as FTP. FTP is complex to use and requires IT intervention to make almost any change. The pain associated with FTP, which was developed in the 1970s, is one of the factors that opened the door for the rise of online file sharing services in the workplace.
Tags: iss131 | ftp | signiant | efss | dropbox | google drive | ftp | ofss | media shuttle | Mike Nash
Contributing Author Mike Nash Click to read or download PDF
Moving to an IP Platform Considerations
Stephen Brownsill Audio transport methods have remained virtually unchanged in the broadcast industry for more than half a century. Common approaches to routing audio around large broadcast facilities have closely followed methodology employed in telco central offices, with the use of X-Y crossbar or crosspoint switching.
Tags: iss131 | ip | smpte | st2110 | Stephen Brownsill
Contributing Author Stephen Brownsill Click to read or download PDF
Opting In or Opting Out
Peter Savage 2 Peter Savage, CEO of Azule, explains whether you should opt in or opt out of the current red tape nightmare facing businesses large and small.
Tags: iss131 | azule | gdpr | consent | Peter Savage 2
Contributing Author Peter Savage 2 Click to read or download PDF
The Ongoing Evolution of Subtitling Technology
Dean Wales As a subtitling technology developer and manufacturer we’re currently and frequently hearing remarks along the lines of us ‘having it easy’ at the moment. This has typically spun out from the fact that there hasn’t been any really significant and therefore demanding technology shifts in the industry that have affected us for a while.
Tags: iss131 | captions | subtitling | ott | speechmatics | live subtitling | live subtitles | Dean Wales
Contributing Author Dean Wales Click to read or download PDF
What is Serial Communication
Mike Colyer

Don’t get me wrong - the advent of IP technology has done wonders for the broadcasting universe, especially here in Special Cams land where changing a setting could have involved a rather long walk and climb to a remote camera location! Nevertheless, this said, I still feel that serial communication is a huge contender - not only just in the realm of odd robotics systems, but also across broadcast in general.

In this article, I will walk through the very basics - introducing a few different types of serial and how they work.

Tags: iss131 | rs422 | rs232 | parity | rs485 | Mike Colyer
Contributing Author Mike Colyer Click to read or download PDF
Delivering on the 4k Promise
Lorna Garrett It’s happened. Consumers are demanding 4K UHD content. They have the TVs, smartphones, tablets and other devices they need, and with much of Netflix and Amazon original content in 4K, as well as sports coverage from BT and Sky, consumers have tasted the future of content quality and are hungry for more. But broadcasters need not worry if their customers have enough bandwidth to receive 4K content - the solutions are ready to make 4K distribution a reality. New viewers are waiting if you’re ready to get to them first.
Tags: iss131 | garland | 4k | uhd | hevc | hc11000 | media excel | Lorna Garrett
Contributing Author Lorna Garrett Click to read or download PDF
Security, Identity and Privacy
Bruce Devlin - new Put your hand up if you have more than one online-identity. Keep your hand up if the adverts for your latest online purchase follow you between identities as you surf the web. You can now let your hand fall into your lap because adverts that follow you indicate algorithms that have merged your multiple identities into the one and only you.
Tags: iss131 | class | Security | Identity | Privacy | gdpr | Bruce Devlin - new
Contributing Author Bruce Devlin - new Click to read or download PDF
Artificial Intelligence and Economics
Dick Hobbs - new It’s May, so it seems inevitable that this month’s column should be a bit of a reflection on NAB. And it will, in due course. But first, some news which I think is interesting. Cisco, the IT giant, is selling off its video software solutions business. It is being bought by an as-yet unnamed new company, backed by venture capitalist Permira Funds.
Tags: iss131 | AI | dejero | evs | sky news | xeebra | state of the nation | Dick Hobbs - new
Contributing Author Dick Hobbs - new Click to read or download PDF
Broadcasting Indoor Sky Diving
Daniel Harker Barnes When you say you’re broadcasting skydiving, there are two types of reactions. One is the creative, who’ll say something along the lines of “Wow. Those shots must look great” and other is the engineer who’ll say “That must be a real hassle to get all the infrastructure in and secure.”
Tags: iss131 | sky diving | ally adams | roaming camera | Daniel Harker Barnes
Contributing Author Daniel Harker Barnes Click to read or download PDF
TV Futures, Tales on Location
Georgia Thirtle If I think back to last May, I was just finishing my second year at the University of Portsmouth, studying Television and Broadcasting, and winding down for the summer. Then out of the blue I got a message from my course leader, saying I might be getting a call from someone who was a location manager working for Raider productions, you know, the production company behind the upcoming Tomb Raider film, I mean, what!?
Tags: iss130 | portsmouth university | tomb raider | cci tv | ccitv | Georgia Thirtle
Contributing Author Georgia Thirtle Click to read or download PDF
VR and the importance of tracking
KitPlus I would like to begin this article by clarifying what we at Shotoku mean when we talk about VR in live production. It’s not the production of immersive, 360 content where you need to wear a headset; we are talking about virtual studio (VS) and augmented reality (AR) work, such as placing graphics into a green screen environment or physical set. The technology used for this work is entirely different, though equally specialist – therefore it is important to understand the challenges of this kind of production in order to make informed kit choices.
Tags: iss130 | shotoku | vr | live production | KitPlus
Contributing Author KitPlus Click to read or download PDF
Transforming asset management and monetization
Chad Hamilton FremantleMedia is one of the largest global television-production companies in the world — with one of the biggest and most valuable catalogs. We operate in 36 markets, creating, producing, and distributing content across traditional TV and digital platforms at a rate of more than 10,000 hours of programming per year.
Tags: iss130 | freemantlemedia | core | wazee | Chad Hamilton
Contributing Author Chad Hamilton Click to read or download PDF
Grand slam IPTV and digital signage platform
Joe Walsh Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, is home to major league baseball’s Kansas City Royals. Built in 1973, “The K” has a proud baseball legacy, and goes down in history for winning two World Series championship titles; one in 1985 and another in 2015 — exactly 20 years apart. The most recent win brought a resurgence of baseball fever to the stadium, hosting more than 2.7 million fans during its 2015 winning season.
Tags: iss130 | iptv | vitec | eztv | Joe Walsh
Contributing Author Joe Walsh Click to read or download PDF
The shining star of Dancing On Ice
Rod Aaron Gammons Lighting is an incredibly important part of any TV production, and it can make a huge difference to what is seen on-screen. If the right lights are used in the right way, it can create a mood, set a tone and convey a certain atmosphere.
Tags: iss130 | rotolight | led lighting | anova pro 2 | chris yacoubian | Rod Aaron Gammons
Contributing Author Rod Aaron Gammons Click to read or download PDF
Out of the box: Sennheiser Ambeo VR microphone
Jon Pratchett 2 The use of 360 video, especially on platforms like Facebook and YouTube is really starting to take off. Gone are the days when you needed to buy multiple GoPros and rigs in order to get something decent looking. Now players like Insta360 and even GoPro with their fusion 360 camera are providing single camera, high quality solutions, enabling the masses to put out reasonable quality, certainly watchable, 360 video.
Tags: iss130 | vr | virtual reality | audio | ambiosonic | Jon Pratchett 2
Contributing Author Jon Pratchett 2 Click to read or download PDF
Interview with Peter Rowsell, Polar Graphics
Polar If you don’t recognise the name Peter Rowsell instantly you no doubt would recognise him in person, from the famous ‘Pink Coconut’ parties during IBC (Brighton) in the 80s or the name ‘Polar Video or Polar Graphics’ both companies which he’s built up over the years.
Tags: iss130 | polar graphics | apantac | bluefish | cinedeck | focalpoint | mediaproxy | stardom | storagedna | Polar
Contributing Author Polar Click to read or download PDF
Technological advances in the broadcast industry
Alan Wheable Since it is Omnitek’s 20th anniversary this year, I thought it would be interesting to look back over the technological advances in the broadcast industry over the last few decades and look at the similarities between then and now.
Tags: iss130 | omnitek | test and measurement | smpte 2110 | untra tq | 2022 | sdi 2022-6 | Alan Wheable
Contributing Author Alan Wheable Click to read or download PDF
Six steps for award winning sound design with Jungle Studios
Chris Turner Few can argue that great sound design is one of the most important elements to any moving picture. Mute most horrors, and the difference in fear factor will be enormous. Visualize Jaws or Star Wars, and John Williams’s iconic score will instantly come to mind.
Tags: iss130 | jungle studios | fairlight | blackmagic design | davinci | Chris Turner
Contributing Author Chris Turner Click to read or download PDF
State of the Nation
Dick Hobbs - new

On the most recent occasion I was trimmed, my hairdresser had just returned from a holiday in Hawaii.

Where she thought she was going to die. She thought this because the state’s emergency alert system was triggered, sending messages across all available platforms, for 38 minutes, that a ballistic missile was about to strike. That, I suspect, is the sort of thing that casts a pall across your holiday.

Why did it happen? Essentially it happened because an operator selected the wrong menu item. “I feel very badly from what’s happened,” he is quoted as saying, in a somewhat mangled version of English which may at least in part explain his difficulties with menu items.

Tags: iss130 | alertsense | Dick Hobbs - new
Contributing Author Dick Hobbs - new Click to read or download PDF
NAB is all about people
John Smith -new The relative success of NAB is down to people. The individuals we meet, the relationships we make and renew with customers and the desire to work together to develop a technology solution to any given challenge.
Tags: iss130 | media links | nab | mdp 3020 | md8000 | John Smith -new
Contributing Author John Smith -new Click to read or download PDF
Reliable back-up at the Music City Bowl
Sam Gordon WLEX – LEX18 – is the NBC affiliate in Lexington, Kentucky, and part of the Cordillera Communications Group. As a very popular local station with a broadcast area that covers 40 counties across central Kentucky we have a big commitment to news, broadcasting more than seven hours of live programming on a typical day.
Tags: iss130 | wlex-tv | dejero | engo | gobox | cellsat | Sam Gordon
Contributing Author Sam Gordon Click to read or download PDF
Tried and tested: DPA d:vice
KitPlus KitPlus recently took delivery of an interesting piece of equipment for review. We like our iPhone gadgets here. For us, useful iPhone gadgets started when the Olloclip lens gave us a wide angle adaptor. This was a good start, finally evolving into a proper tool when Ziess produced the Exolens system for the 5,6 & 7 series iPhones. Around the same time as the Olloclip came out we were testing the Fostex AR4i which was a very exciting development at the time. You have a portable device, that you carry everywhere with you, connected to the world but with very limited audio capabilities. A stereo interface with decent microphones was a real boon!
Tags: iss130 | dpa | dvice | iphone | journalist mic | filmic | ios | microdot | KitPlus
Contributing Author KitPlus Click to read or download PDF
Why OTT needs multicast ABR
Damien Lucas Last year, Netflix’s global revenue reached $11 billion, with 24 million new names added to its subscribers’ list. Viewers are certainly making their preferences heard – and voting with their remote controls to show that over-the-top (OTT) content is here to stay.
Tags: iss130 | ott | abr | adaptive bit rate | cdn | dsl | lte | Damien Lucas
Contributing Author Damien Lucas Click to read or download PDF
How IP-based KVM can improve workflow in broadcast control rooms
John Halksworth One of the most significant shifts the broadcast industry has seen over recent years is the adoption of IP technology as a standard infrastructure across the entire broadcast workflow. IP provides a network suitable for routing audio, video and control around a broadcast facility and is providing the answers to many industry challenges.
Tags: iss130 | kvm | adder | adderlink | alif100t | John Halksworth
Contributing Author John Halksworth Click to read or download PDF
Innovation in cameras moving to 4k
Tony Valentino For a number of reasons, wireless camera links needed time to migrate to 4K. However Broadcast Sports International, BSI, designs their own cameras and builds their own hardware and their transition to 4K is already complete.
Tags: iss129 | bsi | ref-cam | wireless | 4k | Tony Valentino
Contributing Author Tony Valentino Click to read