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Is Television Loudness Still an Issue? pt.II

By Jayson Tomlin on Nov 16, 2018 1:36:54 PM

In Part 1 of our series, we examined the impact of the CALM Act, addressed some lingering loudness issues, and reinforced the continued relevance of real-time processing. This time, in Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at the challenges content creators and broadcasters face when managing loudness in a file-based workflow. Are there different requirements? Are all loudness control techniques created equal?

The need for file-based processing
As we pointed out in Part 1, real-time processing is still needed when dealing with live content, but the recommended practices upon which most loudness regulations are based state that file-based processing is the ideal way to handle loudness whenever possible, and yes, the regulations and standards are the same for file-based as they are for real-time.  

As the name suggests, file-based processors extract the audio essence from a video container (the file) for loudness measurement and correction, then re-wrap it for distribution and playback. One of the biggest benefits of controlling loudness in this manner is having the luxury of analyzing the entire file first to see where the correction or adjustment needs to occur, if at all. In a real-time playout environment where latency must be kept to a minimum, the processor must react to any changes in audio as it’s being played, which often results in compromises.

Is it changing my mix?
The idea of applying any processing at all to the final creative output strikes fear into any professional audio engineer, and so concerns about honoring creative intent are valid. Programs created specifically for television are generally produced with the average TV viewing experience in mind: A less-than-ideal environment and small stereo television speakers.

Movies – at least those originally mixed for theatrical release and not specifically for television – are a different story. Overall sound levels are typically much higher, and audiences expect the significant loudness shifts and wide dynamic range which contribute to the overall “movie theater” experience. This doesn’t translate well to television, and a film engineer can hardly be expected to “mix to the meter” in the same way you would for a live television event. This is one area in which file-based processing really shines. Mixers can freely concentrate on plying their craft for the cinema, and file-based solutions can take all the time necessary to carefully analyze and optimize the audio for broadcast, ensuring compliance on the air while still honoring the creative intent of the original.  

From plug-ins to enterprise
Plug-ins on individual workstations have made content production and loudness control part of the same unified workflow. Easy to both use and integrate, plug-ins put a vast array of high-quality tools into the hands of professionals that get the job done and take the mystery out of compliance.

But what about content that hasn’t benefited from an experienced engineer tailoring the sound and ensuring a compliant result? What if you are delivering the same content to different counties or regions, each with slight variations in regulatory requirements? Or what if the program will not only be available on a broadcast signal, but via a streaming service as well? Thankfully, automated file-based processing lends itself very well to these scenarios and can easily be implemented on an enterprise scale. Audio automation is a real gift to content aggregators and distributors as the complex process of extracting, wrapping, loudness measurement and correction, channel mapping, Dolby® coding, watermarking, quality control and more can be cost prohibitive and wrought the potential for human error.

Next time, we’ll closely examine the dreaded D (dialogue) word as it relates to the overall program.

 

Further Reading

 

Topics: TV Loudness Management, TV Solutions Group

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