Next Generation Audio – TV Audio Beyond 5.1

If you’re in the television industry you should already be aware that our current transmission technology is about to be supplanted by a completely new version, ATSC 3.0. This is not a new iteration, but completely new technology meant to put broadcasters on equal footing with streaming services, including the ability to deliver content to all devices. ATSC 3.0 replaces and broadens video delivery technologies and replaces the underlying audio delivery technology as well. Because all of the key technologies are changing it is not backward compatible with equipment in use now, even in the home.

On the audio front, as part of the Next Generation Audio (NGA) technology in ATSC 3.0, we gain the ability to deliver immersive mixes to consumers. These mixes will be similar to Dolby Atmos cinema mixes, though with fewer channels to mix and deliver to the home. In fact, Dolby AC-4 is the North American NGA technology and it is based on Atmos. So if anyone can figure out how to best outfit their living rooms with 12 speakers or possibly sound frames and other pseudo-surround gadgets, then they can have an even more cinema-like experience without leaving home. Golden Girls reruns in immersive? Anyone?

The more useful part of NGA is object-based audio which allows us to treat some audio elements and submixes as individually assignable mix elements. This gives the viewer/listener the ability, if allowed, to turn the announcers up, down, or off. They may be given the option to substitute the primary language voice for another language without changing the rest of the mix. There are a multitude of other possibilities for how to use objects and they will all be determined by the content creator.

Finally, the most interesting part of NGA is that the system is designed to deliver a version of the same mix to all devices with minimal to zero interaction. This means that an immersive mix will miraculously play fine on a smartphone, tablet, or game console. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ve been covering NGA to a small degree in the TV Technology column but there’s more to come, so keep an eye out at this link.

About Jay

Jay Yeary is an audio, media, and broadcast engineer. Click here to find out more.

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