While I'm not a regular sports fan, I've found myself surfing by the last few weeks of football games. What I've heard literally hurts my ears.
The one caveat to the following comment is that I'm getting reception via Time Warner Cable. So, it's possible (likely) its equipment could affect some aspects of the problem. However, because the results have been so across-the-board in terms of various HD programs and networks, I'm beginning to question the audio expertise of my fellow broadcast engineers.
As a regular Broadcast Engineering reader, you've probably seen photos and read the stories about some of the audio technology being installed in today's HD broadcast trucks. These trucks have about every audio goodie an engineer could want. There is probably a quarter-million dollars in just the audio console! Given all this technology, wouldn't you think it's possible to be able to deliver a consistent level of quality in the audio feed of the typical HD football game?
Granted, today's audio feeds are a whole lot better than what we had two years ago. Back then, the audio in HD trucks was really just an afterthought. But come on! How hard is it to get the surround mics fed into the proper channels? Or, why hasn't the mixer done a mono check? If he had, perhaps someone would have noticed that the color man's mic is out of phase.
Although not all HD sporting events suffer from these types of problems, many still do. And, I'll admit that it is possible for downstream problems to occur that can ruin even the best mix — but a mic phase reversal isn't caused at the cable headend.
Another issue is the amount of surround sound used in the broadcasts. CBS typically has more surround than does FOX. While I like the sound of the CBS mix better, I'll leave the decision on the amount of surround to the creatives. However, one piece of free advice to FOX: If you won't decrease the amount of trashy graphics and the annoying noise used as you fly them in, please drop the audio level a bit. These A/V effects obscure and detract from both seeing the game and hearing the announcers. What's next? Adding an extra “swish” every time you switch between cameras?
The worst problem with today's HD audio feeds is inconsistent levels between the live feed and network or local station breaks. On the CBS and FOX feeds I examined last Sunday, both exhibited easily noticeable audio level shifts when the program switched between the game site back to network origination or between remote sites.
Granted, this is armchair quarterbacking, but it looks to me like the network MCR guys are improperly matching audio levels between the remotes and network commercial playout. The result is that we home viewers set our volume controls to enjoy the game, but then get blasted when the first monaural commercial comes along. How about adjusting dial norm on those encoders to help level out the differences? You've got the technology, so use it.
Next month: Is it my glasses or is that HD image fuzzy? Why can't HD camera operators FOCUS?!