Holophone captures surround for latest production techniques

A rapid proliferation of advanced visual production techniques has gripped all sides of the production industry, affecting everything from feature films to personal events like weddings, with a strong concentration in the broadcast industry. Pioneering techniques in 3-D visuals and the advance of DLSR cameras for video capture are the most striking and obvious new technologies. All carry with them a common need for accompanying surround sound to create an immersive viewing experience.

In an exclusive interview, Jonathan Godfrey, CEO of surround-sound manufacturer Holophone, noted that, in this world of rapidly changing visual production methods, 5.1 surround sound has emerged as the overarching standard for audio. “Whether you’re shooting in HD or 3-D, one thing is clear,” he said, “in order to create a truly immersive experience, you need 360-degree audio to accompany the visuals. Without surround sound, that sense of depth fades away, and all you’ve got is pretty pictures.”

Holophone has been involved in surround sound since the early ’90s, creating products that make it easy to capture 5.1 surround sound with a minimum of complexity. With the proliferation of HD production now reaching the local level, the company has eased the transition to surround audio with the addition of its PortaMic products, which use Holophone’s head-shaped body in a form factor suitable for attachment to any typical field production cameras, including the new DSLRs along with HD ENG gear.

“There are a number of applications that make sense for this form factor, and we’re seeing excellent growth as a result,” Godfrey said. “From our perspective, there’s much more of a need for spatial, three-dimensional audio. The documentary applications are pretty huge, because it allows you go out and take footage of any venue, any place on earth, and you’re not only capturing that in HD or 3-D, you’re capturing the audio, the sonic footprint of the space, in full surround. It really expands what can be accomplished in a one-man shoot.”

The PortaMic Pro and PortaMic 5.1 share the same basic architecture inherent in Holophone’s system, with six strategically placed, factory-matched microphones capturing discrete audio channels. Both models include a Dolby Pro Logic II encoder, stereo output miniplug and unity gain control in a compact, low-profile design that weighs only a half-pound. The stereo output can be decoded back to 5.1 using hardware or software. The PortaMic Pro version adds Holophone’s Audio Zoom feature and a pair of mini-XLR outputs for secure, professional interfacing.

Audio Zoom is Holophone’s technique for emphasizing sound sources in front of the camera or user. In this mode, the front-facing microphone is 6dB hotter in the mix, while the left/right mics increase by 3dB of gain. At the same time, the surround mics are reduced by 6dB, creating a forward-biased pickup focus at the touch of a button.

Jonathan Godfrey sees a bright future for Holophone surround mics in working with DSLR camera technology. These video-ready SLR cameras offer broadcast-ready quality, which was amply demonstrated by the use of the $2000 Canon 7D for an episode of “Saturday Night Live” last season. “It opens up incredible creative opportunities, since you can actually use your photographic lenses for shooting HD video, complete with full manual focus. When you add surround capture, it creates a real synergy between audio and video. There’s a whole package, video and audio, and when you put them together the right way, you’re giving the viewer that much more of an immersive experience,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey mentioned growth in reality TV and sports as Holophone’s core markets, especially in light of the extensive use of Holophone mics at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver; however, he sees the biggest growth in surround coming from the prosumer area. “We’re seeing a lot photographers getting into this as well,” he said. “Videographers and photographers for weddings and events are getting melded together behind DSLR cameras. The PortaMic gives them the whole package, video and audio. When you put them together the right way, people can experience what’s going on around them with much more realism. That’s where we see Holophone surround technology leading the way.”