Making Sports Audio Immersive

Fans, broadcasters face challenge of an increasingly multiplatform environment November 7, 2017

NEW YORK—Considering the costs of attending sporting events, it’s no wonder more consumers are investing in high-end home audio and video systems to follow their favorite teams.

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Univision uses DPA Microphones’ 5100 Mobile Surround Mic to cover soccer matches in surround sound.

Fortunately, the home theater environment continues to improve, with the audio component set to ramp up significantly. Broadcasters face some hurdles, however; for one thing, audio has to play back equally well on the most sophisticated home theater systems and that mono television sitting next to the crock pot in the kitchen, as well as iPads and smart phones.

FOLLOW THE ACTION

David Missall, manager for customer development and application engineering at Sennheiser is familiar with the problem. “All of the networks are going for the same thing,” says Missall. “They want to provide a more immersive audio experience for the viewer. Whatever is being watched and heard has to be made available for the home theater, the single speaker television in the kitchen, as well as the Iphone and iPad.”

The most comprehensive way to make things work is to mic everything and execute multiple mix downs in the truck—which can, over time, prematurely age an engineering crew. Reaching this ideal goal is simply not possible in all circumstances. Using shot gun microphones, it’s possible to isolate the punch of a heavyweight boxer, the crunch of a linebacker taking out a receiver, or a driver making contact with a golf ball. But is there an easier way?

“Loading up with a bunch of directional mics is fine,” says Missall, “but we say, why not use a microphone that’s more of a beam forming array, and controllable, one that can follow the action?” A handful of these microphones, strategically placed just out of bounds on a basketball court, for example, would allow the home viewer to experience a point guard dribbling up court with his ears as well as eyes.

“You want the audio to track the player,” says Missall who recommends the company’s TeamConnect Ceiling Microphone, which targets conference room applications. “If multiple people are, for example, having a webinar meeting, the device automatically picks up the person who is speaking and blocks out all the ambience of the room,” he said. “When the conversation shifts to another person, the device tracks the sound source automatically.

Missall adds that Sennheiser would like to see this technology used more extensively in sports broadcasting.

“We’re currently in the exploratory stage with a product which we hope will allow us to transfer into the broadcast market what TeamConnect has allowed us to achieve in the conference environment,” he said. “A company can’t develop in a vacuum, so we’re working closely with broadcasters to make sure that the product we deliver will fit their needs. We’re seeing a continued interest in immersive audio, and we’re trying to satisfy that need.”

VISUAL APPEAL

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Sennheiser is considering adapting its TeamConnect for the broadcast environment.

When it comes to choosing technology, visual appeal is important, says Byron Hidalgo, technical manager for Univision Sports. Hidalgo, who spent eight years in production before shifting over to engineering seven years ago, works extensively on Major League Soccer broadcasts. Historically, the company has outfitted on air talent with bulky headsets but this year they replaced them with DPA D:fine 66 units.

“The DPA headsets are super small-you can hardly see them—and the audio quality is excellent,” Hidalgo said. “Sportscasters have given us no complaints, and we really like the power of the unit. At unity gain the microphones drive themselves.”

Broadcasters continue to look for ways to capture audio for multispeaker playback in the home that is efficient and cost effective. This year Univision has been experimenting with DPA’s d:mension 5100 Mobile Surround Microphone, a multi-capsule device that ships with five microphones. Hidalgo says that a pair of 5100’s will augment the large microphone array that crews have, up to this point, been forced to use at soccer games and other sporting events.

“We simply place one d:mension 5100 at each end of the field and many of our surround sound needs are taken care of,” he said.  Univision will continue to employ other microphones to track the balls and players.

Currently, Univision has only used the d:mension 5100 system in demos, but the network expects to have them in the field in 2018. “We would like to add the d:mension 5100 to next year’s productions, but that is still on the works,” Hidalgo said.

Another benefit that Univision expects to derive from implementing the d:mension 5100 is a streamlined workflow. “At this point all 5.1 mixing is done in our Miami studios, Hidalgo said. “Remote production staffs send audio to our director and producer, who receive the 64 channels of audio we use and oversee the mix in our studio. The d:mension 5100 should reduce the responsibilities of our Miami staff and allow surround sound audio to stream more directly from location to the end user.

Hidalgo add that it will also help them cut down on setup time when it comes to positioning microphones on the field. “Our Miami staff will always do the mixing of 5.1 audio,” he said. “However, the d:mension 5100 will be a great tool to supplement our current audio setup.”

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Sennheiser's Ambeo VR mic

Down the road Sennheiser sees a wide range of creative audio opportunities opening up. The virtual reality aspect of the company’s Ambeo VR microphone is something that Missall hopes sports broadcasters will take advantage of in the near future.

“Suppose you’re watching a basketball game in your living room. You put on headphones and goggles, and as the camera focuses on a team’s bench during a time out you’re suddenly transported to the sidelines. You hear the coach talking to the team, you turn around and hear a fan screaming at the other team-the technology is there right now. If you’re a NASCAR fan, why not ride along with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., seeing and hearing a race from a shotgun seat in his car?”

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