Smart audio - the way foward for live broadcast production

Anthony Wilkins

Author: Anthony Wilkins

Published: 07 December 2016

Smart audio - the way foward for live broadcast production

Today\'s broadcast facilities are facing ever-increasing demands on their resources as they strive to keep up with consumers who expect more content on more devices, both where and when they want it. Amongst all the various elements broadcasters have to handle (including video, graphics, data, captions and subtitles), the importance of audio should not be underestimated. Inconsistent levels and difficulty in following dialog without straining are frequent sources of complaints to broadcasters and often result in audiences changing channels.

So, to attract and retain viewers, consistent, stable and coherent audio is a vital requirement. One aspect that is particularly important to pay attention to is speech intelligibility. In today\'s file based environment, for content being recorded to be stored and subsequently broadcast at a later date, the task of creating good audio, especially dialog, involves many techniques. Appropriate microphone choice and placement, post-production modifications and a myriad of software tools that can analyse and enhance faster than real time. In these situations, content creators have time, and there is no reason why the end result should not have clear, compelling audio and dialog.

In a live broadcast situation however, things are very different. Think about a breaking news story that needs to be on air as quickly as possible. There is simply no time to use all the techniques used for say a drama production. A feed from an outside broadcast needs to be combined with a local studio presenter and perhaps a correspondent reporter speaking from a remote studio. Audio levels cannot be assumed to be consistent with each other and may not be compliant with relevant loudness standards. To ensure that viewers receive a consistent and above all clear, audio experience, it is necessary to find a way of dealing with potential issues in a more efficient way and one that requires minimal intervention and manual control or operation.

The answer is to utilize real time processing algorithms that are both intelligent and adaptive. Devices need to be fully interoperable with others in the broadcast environment and need to seamlessly integrate with both playout automation systems and logging and monitoring processes. In the above news story example, automated levelling of all the individual sources can be used to pre-condition the audio before auto-mixing and voice over integration. This is purely level based and ensures that the feeds are all complimentary to each other. Along with this pre-levelling, adaptive EQ techniques can be employed to ensure consistency of spectral balance and that all important speech intelligibility, and an auto up-mix process to ensure a consistent 5.1 experience for surround broadcasts. The last part of the chain is then loudness-based control which, due to the earlier pre-conditioning, should only require minor steering (if any at all). Now add to this scenario equipment that has the ability to interface with Audio Over IP networks just by plugging in a single cable, and bring all this together into a solution that requires just a minimal number of initial parameters to be set and then it just "works".

This is the overall concept of moving live audio production from a heavily manual process to one that has a degree of semi-automation. Once the units at each stage have been configured and loaded with pre-sets for individual presenters or contributors, the whole solution becomes "set and forget", with the result that from programme to programme, and from day to day, your live audio output is guaranteed to be high quality, consistent and dependable. That is one of the vital elements that attracts, and most importantly retains, viewers and listeners.

At Junger Audio we describe this as Smart Audio - a way of delivering high quality sound in a very efficient manner, with minimal requirement for manual control or intervention from an operator. We are backing this concept with our D*AP range of products that can give broadcasters a Smart Audio Experience because every device incorporates a collection of sophisticated adaptive processing algorithms. They also employ the industry standard Ember+ remote protocol that allows seamless integration with an increasingly wide range of compatible equipment.

Smart Audio is gaining momentum and has already been adopted by a number of broadcasters, including Input Media in London and the ARD Tagesschau television prime time news service in Germany. In a world where resources are tight and broadcasters can\'t afford to employ an entire team of audio engineers to manage sound quality at every position, Smart Audio is the future.

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