Tom Butts /
12.02.2013 10:00 AM
ITU Submits New Broadcast 'Immersive' Audio Standard for Approval
New standard uses metadata to give consumers more control
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—The International Telecommunications Union has announced a new audio standard candidate for next generation immersive and personalized audio systems for TV and radio. The new draft Recommendation “Advanced Sound System for Programme Production” is being submitted to ITU membership for the combined adoption and approval procedure.

The ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector’s Study Group 6—which established 5.1 channels as the surround sound standard for broadcasting two decades ago—says the new system will allow TV audiences to be “enveloped” in the sound as it traces the source of the audio track both laterally and vertically across the screen. The ITU says it has developed a “single, coherent approach” that will provide the sufficient flexibility needed to allow various techniques to adapt to the newly proposed standard.

The new standard will allow broadcasters to enhance the audio landscape by supplying more channels of audio that can be “rendered” for use by any additional available loudspeakers or by delivering audio elements that are “dynamically rendered” into existing speakers. Viewers can choose to listen to the enhanced audio through existing stereo or 5.1 speaker systems or install additional speakers. The key to the new standard is that the delivered channels and sound elements are fully described by metadata labeling that drives the rendering as well as the reproduction.

Although it targets the emerging UHDTV format, the immersive audio standard can be used with existing HDTV and SDTV systems as well as in radio and audio compact discs and packaged media. Users can create their own audio landscape through their receivers, according to ITU.

Whether or not the new standard becomes commonplace with consumers, one can draw an analogy to the adoption of 5.1 in the home. TV Technology audio columnist Jay Yeary has his doubts.

“This is the audio industry’s contribution to UHDTV and 4K but there are number of issues with it, primarily whether immersive audio will be adopted in the home,” he said. “Since most of these technologies have a 5.1 mix at the core, they are able to scale to existing systems, but they all require more speakers to really be immersive. In short, this will be a breakthrough if broadcasters figure out how to actually deliver it to the home, if a single format is actually agreed upon for delivery [or if formats can be made cross-compatible], and if the ATSC and EBU methods are compatible [at least for workflow].”

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