Audio at 2010 NAB Show: The Year of Loudness

After a couple years of emphasis on new mixing consoles optimized for use in surround-sound and DTV environments, it appears that this year’s biggest audio trend is toward controlling unwanted variations in the volume of the audio stream. Indications gleaned from preshow communications from manufacturers suggest that the 2010 NAB Show will see a heavy emphasis on products aimed at loudness monitoring and control. Just as the move to DTV and its associated 5.1 audio stream created a need for content producers to upgrade their mixing desks over the past few years, loudness control has become a major hot button across the entire broadcast ecosystem.

This is not unexpected. Jarring differences in volume between programming and commercials, and from channel to channel, have long been the most common audio-based complaints among consumers. Pending legislation is likely to require broadcasters to actively control such volume variations. HR 1084, the Commercial Advertisement and Loudness Mitigation Act (known as the CALM Act), would direct the FCC to adopt specific loudness control practices. The bill, sponsored Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-CA, passed the House by voice vote last December and is now before the Senate. As currently written, the CALM Act will require commercials to comply with the proposed Advance Television Systems Committee recommended practice A/85, adopted by the ATSC in November 2009.

Fortunately, the manufacturing community has a leg up on this issue. Top manufacturers and designers have already established products and techniques designed to meet any legislative requirements, having already undergone similar legislation in Europe. Broadcasters would be well-advised to make visits to these booths a priority at this year’s NAB Show.

Loudness monitoring and control is available in both software and hardware platforms. Some provide monitoring, some offer analysis of audio streams and others maintain active control of audio across platforms from mono up through surround sound. Dolby Labs (NAB Booth SU7917) is always at the forefront of audio technology, both on the production and end-user side of the equation. Its Dolby Volume technology is being licensed to provide automatic volume adjustment in cable system set-top boxes while also providing the LM100 broadcast loudness meter for ingest, production and post-production environments.

Audio quality specialists at Linear Acoustic (NAB Booth SU8125) will be introducing a new companion product to the Aero.qc line, the LQ-1000 loudness quality monitor. In addition, Junger Audio (NAB Booth SU7206) will be unveiling a new loudness control processor as part of its ITU-compliant Level Magic system, which uses a modular approach to create a mix of functionality tailored to the user’s needs.

Wohler Technologies CEO Carl Dempsey will present “Establishing Convenient Loudness Monitoring and Control within Existing Broadcast Workflows” on Monday, April 12, in Room S228. The Wohler booth (N3023) will feature its AMP series 16-channel audio/video monitors, now upgraded to decode and configure Dolby Digital Plus signals.

Other loudness control announcements for NAB were made by RTW and Harris. Harris (NAB Booth N2502), best known as a system-level solution provider, recently announced that it would unveil a new loudness analysis tool, the CMN-LA loudness analyzer, developed in collaboration with TC Electronic. Audio metering specialist RTW (NAB Booth C457) has promised an important new product announcement at its press conference, to be held Monday at 4 p.m. Canada’s Miranda Technologies (NAB Booth N2515) will be showing three distinct Automatic Loudness Control solutions to prevent jumps in loudness levels between programs and commercials.

Loudness monitoring, analysis and control technologies will be on display from these and other vendors at the 2010 NAB Show. With DTV established, surround sound quickly becoming standard across all platforms, and with the probability of a legal mandate, this is clearly the year for broadcasters to explore which of the many loudness control solutions will best integrate into their workflow.