Why External Television Audio Processing Solutions Make More Sense Than Ever
By Jim Kuzman on Apr 18, 2018 4:00:00 PM
One of my most memorable observations in television engineering came at the end of a rather lengthy telephone call a couple of years ago that involved helping a customer with an unusually complex requirement who said, “I remember when the audio was the easy part!”
Indeed, the days when the mere presence of sound on the aural carrier qualified as a thorough QC of the audio chain are long gone. The transition from analog to digital elevated television audio to something with which TV engineers had to make friends, and if they didn’t reach out to embrace it on their own, regulations like the CALM Act forced them to shake hands.
Linear Acoustic established itself as the “go to” brand for television audio processors early on, and the installation of the first OCTiMAX and AEROMAX loudness controllers inevitably eliminated the influx of angry phone calls to stations from irate viewers who were justifiably annoyed with jarring volume shifts and blaringly loud commercials. We’ve enjoyed many “We installed your box and the phone stopped ringing” calls from our customers over the years. Simply put, we solved the problem and got the job done.
While our “prime directive” is still to deliver viewer-pleasing, compliant audio, we’re increasingly in the business of providing solutions that help our customers solve problems. Accordingly, Linear Acoustic products have evolved beyond simple loudness controllers into multi-tasking “Swiss Army knives” of audio (more on that later).
WE’RE NOT ALONE
Please let this be our little secret, but… shhh… we’re not the only company that makes audio processing solutions for television. In fact, many new MPEG encoders offer built-in audio processing. This raises an interesting question: Why in the world would you buy something from us that you already get for “free”? Glad you asked, and there are, in fact, some great reasons.
ONE: AUDIO QUALITY MATTERS
Let’s start with audio quality. There is more to providing your viewers with pleasing audio than simply being compliant and making a meter happy. Remember those loudness shifts that once annoyed viewers? Here’s another secret: It’s not the only thing that irritates them. Overly-compressed audio and artifact-laden wideband processing algorithms get on their nerves too. Most major networks and an overwhelming majority of affiliate stations committed to Linear Acoustic processing in the early days of digital television because of the exceptional audio quality we deliver. That hasn’t changed, nor has its importance to discerning broadcasters and viewers.
TWO: AUDIENCE MEASUREMENT ENCODING
Another feature unique to Linear Acoustic products is the ability to generate a variety of audience measurement watermarks. It is, of course, possible to use external watermark encoders for this purpose, but doing so within our products offers a unique advantage: It inserts the watermark AFTER the audio has been processed, allowing the encoder to be driven with higher and more consistent levels, which can in turn result in more reliable and accurate audience measurement data.
THREE: LIFE BEYOND PROCESSING
Remember that “Swiss Army knife” reference from earlier? Once upon a time, we made products that took in linear audio analog or AES audio, processed it, upmixed it to 5.1 in some cases, and sent it on its way downstream.
Today, the basic functions of processing and upmixing are almost taken for granted. So, what about the other tasks our processors perform? Whether by evolving technology or direct request as part of the incredible relationships we’ve developed with our customers over the years, these have become nearly as important as the basics.
As a result, our AERO.100, AERO.2000, and AERO.8000 products must be able to receive an incoming AES, SDI or AoIP signal, de-embed it (SDI) or convert it to PCM audio (AoIP), decode various forms of Dolby®-encoded formats, shuffle channel pairs around as needed, perform the requisite loudness control and compliance processing, upmix stereo content to multi-channel audio, insert audience measurement watermarks, measure and log loudness levels and alert operators to out-of-tolerance situations, insert external audio sources such EAS warnings and local emergency audio (“text to speech”) content, handle SAP audio, compensate for A/V lip sync issues, encode the processed audio to Dolby® AC-3 or other coded formats, and re-embed to SDI or create a networked AoIP stream. Whew!
No other television processor combines all of those functions into a single product that also delivers the highest possible audio quality to your viewers.
FOUR: THE INTANGIBLES
Audio quality and a rich feature set are important and easy to quantify, but there are other reasons to own one of our products.
Our customers often tell us they installed one of our AERO processors many years ago and haven’t touched it since. We like that our products fade into the background. Sure, we love hearing from our customers, but we don’t want you to have called our support engineers so many times that you have our phone number memorized.
That sort of reliability is the result of sound engineering (pun intended), thoughtful design, and an unrivaled attention to detail during production - which, by the way, is still done in Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
That said, products do need to be re-configured, adjusted, and even repaired or replaced over their lifespan, which brings us to the matter of support. Sadly, the trend toward customer “non-support” that has become the norm for most consumer products has also surfaced for professional broadcast gear, but broadcasters can’t put their faith (or their dollars) into companies who farm out support or call you back days later. The Linear support team is built of people just like you, many of whom worked as broadcast engineers in a past life and all of whom understand that going off-air is a bad thing.
As technology evolves, so do the tools and methods broadcasters use to deliver content to their viewers. Change isn’t always a bad thing. It forces us to be open to doing things differently. But products and practices that at first appear to offer convenience and cost advantages aren’t always what they seem, and closer examination often reveals that proven, dedicated solution is still a better choice. There is no better example of this than trusting a Linear Acoustic processor for your television audio. Join the thousands who already have.
Topics: Telos Allilance
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