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IBC 2015 Blog: audio offerings

By Simon Ray

Last year, I wrote about the potential of a couple of audio products, namely the DAD audio interfaces and the Avid S6. I have had the opportunity to put both of these products into an install at the recently completed 7.1 theatrical mix room (Theatre 2) at Goldcrest in London.

The DAD lived up to its promise and is the cornerstone of this install. With its comprehensive I/O and routing it makes the set up of a “mixing in the box” room a reality — and one that can handle large theatrical mixing.

The Avid S6 is also a great product that has come a long way since the first buggy prototype was unveiled at IBC two years ago. The recent V.2 release has added the last few items that were needed to make it a fully formed mixing tool. The response so far has been very positive, but as always there a few more “requests” from the mixers to make it even more flexible.

There is never that much in the way of audio represented at IBC in comparison with video, but I was encouraged to see that many of the audio companies that were at the show were incorporating audio-over-IP into their products.

Dante is the audio-over-IP solution from Audinate. I was initially skeptical about using this in a critical situation, such as in our new Theatre 2, but we wanted an all-digital (up to the output of the amps) monitoring chain. Dante allowed us to achieve this and has the flexibility to do the larger numbers of channels required for Atmos all the way down to a single cable, and all controlled within a single application.

We looked to minimize the use of Dante in this room and the install required only a point-to-point connection between the DAD audio interface we are using as the main monitoring router and the unit controlling the signal distribution, DSP, amps and speakers. In order to investigate the possibilities that audio over IP offers, we also installed a secondary network that we could use to test the reliability of Dante without affecting the running of the theatre itself.

It quickly became apparent that Dante opens up a wide range of possibilities. It is simple to route, appears very reliable and will save on expensive multicore cabling installation around the building. As such, it was encouraging to see a number of exhibitors display “Dante Enabled” signs around the halls, including at SSL. I always like to visit SSL’s stand even if it is mostly a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me… remembering their great analogue mixing consoles of 20 years ago and my time working in music studios.

SSL Network I-O MADI-Bridge

SSL’s MADI to Dante bridge and their Dante-enabled Stageboxes — SB 8.8 and SB i16.

SSL had a number of Dante enabled products that looked interesting to me, including a MADI to Dante bridge, all of which were developed for their new System T broadcast platform.

Immersive Audio
Finally, I attended a session in the Auditorium where a panel discussed the current situation around immersive audio. This included an overview and report from Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D and DTS-X, as well as interesting input from a rerecording mixer (Gilbert Lake, who recently finished Mission Impossible 5, which sounds incredible), a representative of the cinema owners and a representative from SMPTE, which has a working group trying to develop some interoperable standards to allow competing technologies to coexist in the market.

The cinema owners are concerned about investing in one format only for another to become the standard. To quote one panel member, “No one wants to own an HD-DVD when the world has gone Blu-ray.”

The reality of mixing all content for all formats is not realistic either as it would be so costly in both time and money. In the UK, at least, the only format that seems to be taking off is Dolby Atmos, with a number of facilities having invested in it. There is still a disappointingly small number of screens showing films in Dolby Atmos in the UK and with the ones that do, it can often be hard to find out which screen and when.

There was an interesting discussion after the presentations that seemed to boil down to two things:

1. The playback system needs to faithfully reproduce the artistic intent that was realized on the mix stage. This may be problematical if the format that the recording mixer mixed in is different to the playback format.  Simply: if you mix in Atmos, playback in Atmos. There was much discussion about whether the open standards that SMPTE is trying to set would help the situation with no real clear word about whether it actually would.

2. Until there appears to be some sort of definitive standard or guidelines as to what system will be used, the cinemas are reluctant to commit time and more importantly, money to upgrading their theaters.

As sound in the cinema is invariably awful due to poorly maintained systems, whatever format is decided upon, it cannot come soon enough.

Simon Ray is head of operations and engineering Goldcrest Post Production in London.

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