Be it general audio products, surround sound for video and television, or HD and digital audio post production, it was all on display at this year's NAB. New solutions — offering both higher quality at more effective price points and easier functionality — were in abundance. While exhibitors were enthusiastic, so were attendees looking for audio solutions, especially 5.1 surround-sound products. This being my fifth year covering the audio beat at NAB for Broadcast Engineering, I was anxious to see if any trends would emerge.
Viewers expect great audio to accompany their HDTV channels, and 5.1 audio will soon be a requirement for every digital broadcaster. Exhibitors said viewers are becoming less tolerant of excessive sound levels. Broadcasters are paying closer attention to perceived loudness and are asking for solutions to balance the divergent audio levels that often exist between drama and commercials. The last thing broadcasters want is for the viewer to find the difference in sound levels too great to tolerate and then mute or change the channel. Fortunately, there were plenty of new audio solutions shown, with the trend being toward the smaller and less-expensive.
The new H4 SuperMINI surround-sound mic from Holophone is a discrete 5.1-channel camera-mountable surround microphone that can encode surround audio directly to tape in real time. Sanken's COS-22 is a dual-capsule lavalier microphone. The ultra-miniature mic measures only 1.25in in length but has a full-frequency response of up to 20,000Hz. Neumann showed its new TLM 49 large diaphragm, cardioid, studio microphone. It features the K 47 capsule, which is used in the familiar M 49 and U 47 microphones.
This year's show also saw several other product trends, including increased automation and networking, as well as a better integration of software solutions. Surround mixers and software with built-in 5.1 support and higher 24-bit 196kHz resolution were also on display. For example, Euphonix showed its full line of broadcast and audio post consoles, including the new System 5-B and Max Air systems, which are specifically designed for on-air and live-to-tape applications. They include full integration with facility audio routers.
Euphonix digital audio mixing systems are now capable of fully integrating with most router control systems that use the ES-Switch protocol. Those vendors include NVISION, PESA, Pro-Bel, Sony, Thomson Grass Valley and Utah Scientific. The company's new System 5-P audio post system and the new System 5-MC integrated DAW audio mixing system offer networked control of other applications, including Pro Tools, Logic Pro and Digital Performer via the HUI control protocol. Euphonix and Hitachi Data Systems also have teamed up to offer a new audio facility network server, which made its debut at NAB.
Digital audio recorders of all shapes and sizes were available. The new Marantz Professional PMD560 is rack-mountable and records to Compact Flash or microdrives. It is capable of onboard editing, complete with instant audio access to the preset marked points. The unit provides more than 35 hours of recording time on a cost-effective 1GB Flash memory card.
As more broadcasters move to repurpose content, many are interested in improving the online audio experience for viewers. An Orban and Coding Technologies partnership offered a free MPEG-4 aacPlus Audio (also known as HE-AAC) player for Windows Media users. Via a DirectShow Plug-in, the new audio software technology enables the more than 80 million users of Microsoft Windows Media to enjoy near-CD-quality audio at only 32Kb/s.
With the trend toward HD, the challenge for the broadcast and video industry with 5.1 continues to be providing more content that's compatible with the wide variety of consumer playback technologies.
Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a journalist, video creator and former member of the U.S. Navy's Combat Camera Group.