At the recent IFA Berlin and IBC Amsterdam trade shows, Germany’s Fraunhofer IIS made two major announcements. First, the company demonstrated a potentially game-changing new technology — a dialogue enhancement solution that allows TV and radio audiences to individually adjust the relative volume of program elements at home. In addition, a new product, the Fraunhofer MultimediaPlayer for digital radio, enables manufacturers of PC-based receiver solutions and smartphones to integrate playback along with a suite of data services.
Fraunhofer’s dialogue enhancement technology puts actual mix control into the hands of home viewers, enabling them to change the volume of specific audio elements to their taste. In a field test during BBC Radio 5 coverage of the recent Wimbledon tennis tournament, users were provided with a specially designed media player with individual controls for dialogue, ambience, etc. A similar demonstration was shown at the recent IBC and IFA trade shows, and reaction from industry users, like that of BBC test subjects, was very positive.
The dialogue enhancement technology transports individual audio elements as objects within a compatible mono or stereo downmix. An audio encoder streams the downmix, along with parametric side information, at a high efficiency bit rate. On the receiving side, the user can adjust each audio object individually. For a typical sports event, some home users prefer more prominence of the announcer, while others might want to enhance the “live” feel of the broadcast by increasing the crowd noise.
Most critically, Fraunhofer’s dialogue enhancement technology is completely compatible with existing transmission and playback methodologies. Devices not equipped to decode individual mix elements (parametric side information) will simply play the mixed audio signal as they do currently.
The second major announcement from Fraunhofer is the introduction of its new MultimediaPlayer software for radio broadcast. This software is the first in the industry to include MPEG Surround at stereo bit rates, while also incorporating data services such as advanced text service for news, sports results, local weather forecasts and background information. Program accompanying information adds song titles, station information and graphics such as weather maps or cover art. In addition, radio stations can offer a simple multimedia download service. The software also makes Hybrid services a reality by linking added-value offerings of the Digital Radio broadcast platform with individual communication media such as the Internet, telephony, or navigation. All of these services are displayed in a clearly arranged interface.
“With all of the entertainment options available in the industry, high-quality solutions that add true value to the listener experience are key to staying competitive,” said Alexander Zink, digital radio expert and project manager at Fraunhofer IIS. “Fraunhofer’s MultimediaPlayer software is a flexible and easy-to-integrate solution that arms manufacturers with the technology needed to provide the best possible audio experiences along with all of the features digital radio has to offer.”