German broadcasters agree on audio levels

Germany is harmonizing on the European Broadcast Union (EBU) Recommendation 128 on audio levels, with unanimous support from all its public and commercial TV broadcasters. This will bring interoperability to audio control, and ensure that German consumers no longer have to suffer from sudden changes in loudness while watching programmes, adverts and trailers, or cope with major variations between channels. The broadcasters, including EBU members ARD and ZDF, plan to begin transmitting with newly harmonized loudness from Aug. 31, 2012.

EBU Director of Technology & Development Lieven Vermaele hoped the German adoption of EBU Recommendation 128 would stimulate a wider international appreciation of its benefits.

"R 128 is gaining real traction in Europe, but what is significant about the German move is, as in the Netherlands, that both the public and private broadcasters have agreed on its simultaneous, universal application,” Vermaele said. “This is great news for German audiences, and should encourage national broadcasters in other countries to follow suit."

The Netherlands has already harmonized on R 128, while, in October 2011, France became the first country to link the EBU R128 standard to its audiovisual legislation, meaning existing laws on loudness are now better defined and can be rigorously enforced. That move means production and distribution equipment used in France will have to comply with EBU R128, as will broadcasters and production houses. The introduction is taking place in three phases, with normalization of short programs from Jan. 1, 2012, live programs by June, and all programs by the end of this year.

The other European country to commit to EBU R 128 is Switzerland, where national channels will adopt it in February. Broadcasters in many other European countries have expressed interest in use of R 128 too, and are currently engaged on educating staff, testing equipment, and developing plans for implementation.

EBU R128 emerged in 2010 following two years intensive work by the EBU Group on Loudness known as PLOUD, led by Florian Camerer from the Austrian national public service broadcaster ORF. EBU R 128 includes a Loudness metering specification, a Loudness range descriptor, and Loudness test material. The idea is to allow broadcasters to monitor and adjust audio continuously using loudness meters, rather than just analyzing peaks and troughs, as was the previous practice, which failed to avoid sudden lurches in volume. At the same time EBU R128 also recommends standardizing audio levels at a specified level measured in its own Loudness Units (LUFS). The EBU recommends 23 LUFS plus or minus one, and if adopted this would mean that there would be a common level of loudness across all countries implementing EBU R 128, with variations kept within about plus or minus four percent.

The EBU announced the recommendation at IBC 2010, and a year later at IBC 2011 there were 30 vendors demonstrating support. Among them was German recording system vendor RTW, which incorporated EBU loudness recommendations in its flagship Surround Control.