Listen Up! Atlanta Hears ATSC 3.0 Audio As Proponents Demonstrate Advantages

SoundboardSkip Pizzi is Vice-chair of ATSC TG3 and leads the S31 Specialist Group on ATSC 3.0 System Requirements and Program Management. Pizzi is Senior Director, New Media Technologies, at National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), providing guidance for NAB members on new and emerging media technologies and their potential applications to broadcast services.

He also served as the Audio Test Coordinator, leading the testing and evaluation process of proposed audio systems for ATSC 3.0. We asked him about demonstrations of those systems presented in July.

Question: Comprehensive demonstrations of audio technologies for ATSC 3.0 took place last month in Atlanta.  What was accomplished during this in-person event?

Pizzi: “The Atlanta inititative was an opportunity for both ATSC 3.0 audio system proponents – Dolby Labs and the MPEG-H Audio Alliance – to show off their systems and let ATSC members and other invited guests kick the tires a bit. Both proponents set up full (and quite impressive) demonstrations of their systems, showing how they would work in both professional broadcast facilities and consumer home environments. 

“Rigorous subjective listening tests and feature evaluations had taken place earlier in the year, and the draft final report of those tests and evaluations was presented to the ATSC S34-2 Ad-hoc Group on ATSC 3.0 for review and comment at the Atlanta meetings.”

Question: How will audio be different in ATSC 3.0 than it is for ATSC 1.0?  What new features/capabilities will be added?

Pizzi: “There are many new and enhanced capabilities envisioned. First, the stereo and 5.1-channel surround capabilities of today’s ATSC system will be expanded to include “immersive” (that is, fully three-dimensional) sound using 12 or more channels. There will also be far more flexibility for broadcasters in the presentation of multiple languages, accessibility features, immersive sound elements and other effects through the use of audio ‘objects.’

“Viewers will be able to personalize their TV sound experience by adjusting the level of dialog, changing the position of certain sound elements, changing dialog language, selecting different narration (like ‘home’ versus ‘away’ announcers for sporting events) or adding commentary tracks, and so on.

“In consumers’ homes, the new system will accommodate a wide range of speaker and soundbar systems and placements, and also include improved loudness and dynamic range controls. Viewers will be able to merge soundtrack elements available on the Internet with broadcast content in perfect synchronization. And with all these and other features, the system will also be more bandwidth-efficient, so audio will require fewer bits in the payload. This means that these qualitative and quantitative improvements can be delivered to viewers in a highly practical manner, typically occupying the same or less bandwidth than today’s ATSC audio system requires.”

Question: Are there any audio issues we’ve learned over the years with ATSC 1.0 that will be corrected with ATSC 3.0?  For instance, lip sync was a problem in the beginning of digital TV, but those issues were eventually addressed.  Maybe there are some other improvements?  

Pizzi: “There are several things we’ve learned ‘the hard way’ in ATSC 1.0 that will be better served by the new system. They include more intelligent loudness management and dynamic range control, a dialog enhancement feature (allowing the user to adjust the level of the dialog track against the background sound), improved multilingual and video-description service support, and more flexible methods of addressing the wide range of consumer audio reproduction systems that exist – including headphones for mobile TV viewing.”

Question: What’s the next step for the Audio portion of the ATSC 3.0 standard?  How soon will things move to a Candidate Standard ballot?

Pizzi: “Now that the testing is successfully completed, we’ve moved into the decision-making phase, in which the actual technology to be included in the standard is selected. While I can’t put a date when that process will conclude,it’s generally on track. And following the audio technology selection, the Candidate Standard drafting should proceed fairly quickly. Ideally, a draft Candidate Standard for audio will be available sometime this fall.”