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SoundField DSF-2 Mic System Generates 5.1 Audio At Wimbledon & The Proms

Wakefield, UK, September 2008: UK-based Outside Broadcast facilities company SISLIVE have purchased a SoundField DSF-2 digital microphone system and accompanying DSF-3 surround-sound processor. The DSF-2/DSF-3 pairing made its debut on SISLIVE's high-definition coverage of 2008's Wimbledon tennis tournament for BBC Sport in June, and has since been used for the live coverage of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, which is continuing until September 13th.

According to SISLIVE OB sound supervisor Bill Whiston, who experimented with surround sound recording as a BBC OB sound engineer for many years, SoundField's digital microphone system has been a big step forward. "I've been interested in the SoundField microphone for years, ever since it was introduced as a Calrec product", comments Whiston. "The digital version and the DSF-3 have made surround sound for broadcast very simple."

The DSF-2 is the first digital implementation of SoundField’s technology (all previous models being analogue) and allows a specially designed multi-capsule microphone to behave as a point source faithfully capturing an acoustic event in all three dimensions. The resulting signals can then be converted into phase-coherent mono, stereo, M&S or any surround format. With many SoundField systems, the output can be generated in several formats simultaneously, which has proved attractive to broadcasters needing to provide stereo audio for standard-definition transmissions and simultaneous 5.1 surround for HD services. The DSF-3 processor is the perfect partner for broadcasters using the DSF-2 microphone to produce surround sound, as it allows the DSF-2 to directly output 5.1 audio digitally for the first time.

Bill Whiston has experimented with multi-mic setups and spaced arrays at Wimbledon for several years, and even transmitted Dolby-Surround-encoded four-channel surround sound, matrixed as part of the standard BBC stereo broadcast, from the tournament. These experiments could be experienced by anyone who ran the audio through a Dolby Surround Pro Logic decoder and connected the results to a multi-speaker output, although of course in those days, there weren't many people around who had either of those. "In practice, of course, not many people got to hear it," he admits, "although we did get some nice feedback from sound engineers in Australia who spotted it on the live broadcasts!" In 2007, BBC Sport transmitted the Wimbledon tournament in high-definition for the first time, and the Outside Broadcasts division ensured that a form of surround (4.0, rather than 5.1) accompanied the transmissions. "It worked, but it wasn't the ideal solution, particularly the coverage of the crowd ambience, which we handled with a double MS array," explains Whiston. "but we made the mixing work in the end. We didn't have proper surround-capable mixers in our OB vehicles then either."

Following the 2007 tournament, Whiston suggested that the BBC OB division acquire a DSF-2 in the future, as it would enable the court ambience to be captured for broadcast in 5.1 via a single mic suspended above the crowd, which could then be supplemented with the usual spot mics and court-level arrays to provide comprehensive audio coverage on Centre Court. By the time Wimbledon 2008 arrived, BBC Outside Broadcasts had become SISLIVE, a division of SIS, the Calrec mixing desks in the OB units involved at Wimbledon had been upgraded to full surround capability with Bluefin technology, and Whiston was working with the new SoundField system. For 2008, the DSF-2 was suspended high in the eaves at the North End of Centre Court, opposite the Royal Box. The DSF-2 processor was installed in PA Room 305 by Wimbledon sound engineering company RG Jones, and connected by fibre link passing AES digital to the OB scanner, where Bill Whiston had set up the 19-inch DSF-3 digital decoder unit and could pass the 5.1 audio channels straight from the DSF-3 into the sound control room's Calrec mixer. A similar setup is currently being used for SISLIVE's OB coverage of the Proms in their Master Sound vehicle.

"We've been moving towards this for a while," he explains. "To keep up with the competition, most companies in the business of high-definition outside broadcasts now have to be able to offer 5.1 audio in some way. The DSF-2 has become the de facto way of producing surround sound for high-definition sports transmissions, and when you use it, you can soon see why. We achieved a much better coverage of the overall court ambience and crowd coverage with the DSF-2 and DSF-3 at Wimbledon this year — some good things have been said about our HD coverage of that. I think SISLIVE’s DSF-2 and DSF-3 will see a lot of use over the next few years.”