Immersed In Training For Immersive Audio: Stefan Meltzer Q&A

MUNICH—From time to time new technology requires development of new production techniques, and that’s precisely the situation South Korea’s three major broadcasters, KBS, MBC and SBS face when it comes to their deployment of ATSC 3.0 to provide 4K UHD coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics from PyeongChang, South Korea, Feb. 9-25.

Specifically, the broadcasters needed to learn all they could about immersive audio for coverage of the event.

South Korea has chosen MPEG-H as the audio system for its ATSC 3.0 implementation, so German research organization Fraunhofer –a major MPEG-H proponent– has made a significant effort to help the nation’s broadcasters prepare for immersive audio production of the Olympics.

Fraunhofer technology consultant Stefan Meltzer supervised the training of South Korean broadcasters in MPEG-H’s immersive and personalized interactive sound. In this interview, he discusses how ATSC 3.0 immersive audio will be used for coverage of the games, the approach Fraunhofer has taken to training, some of the immersive technology that will be used for the production, what Korean 4K UHD viewers will hear and how the new audio technology lends itself to a prototype ATSC 3.0-based mobile TV deployment planned for the Olympics.

TVTechnology:MPEG-H as part of the ATSC 3.0 implementation in South Korea will be used to provide immersive audio coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Tell me about its application. What events will it be used to cover?

Stefan Meltzer: I can’t say for the moment because that is something that is up to the Korean broadcasters working with OBS [Olympic Broadcasting Services].

But it is a high probability that the opening and closing ceremonies will be immersive, and then there is also a high likelihood that the sports of interest [to South Koreans] like short track speed skating and figure skating might be something that will be covered in immersive. Other events that might not be so popular in Korea might only be covered in 5.1.

TVTechnology:It’s not like you are starting with a completely blank sheet of paper, but immersive audio is quite a new technological capability. How have you helped South Korea’s broadcasters who will be involved with Olympic coverage get up to speed?

SM: We have been working with Korean broadcasters for nearly two years. We also have a demonstration room in Korea. Last year, we started to train South Korean sound engineers on immersive sound and the interactivity.

We now have four sound engineers in Korea who can help direct the broadcasts. We also have demonstrations that allow us to demo the technology and also the entire production chain, as well as listen to it over speakers and on an immersive sound bar.

In addition, we have regular training with people coming over from Germany. We also have an inspector as a consultant and an inspector as a consultant to Olympics production for OBS.

With this expertise brought in, we can tell them how this can be done for the Olympics.

TVTechnology:Tell me a little more about training the four South Korean sound engineers for immersive audio.

SM: We brought them over to Germany and trained them in the different trackings and technologies and how to set up the microphones and how to prepare the mixes—the basic ideas behind it so the people who are working as freelancers in Korea can be trained onsite by them.

However, I am not sure that you are aware of the big strike that has been going on at KBS and MBC since the beginning of September. That is slowing down the whole thing a little bit at the moment.

TVTechnology:At this early stage, is it difficult to find the audio production technology that will be needed for the immersive mix?

SM: We have the technology available to make this happen. We have developed with Linear Acoustic and Junger Audio the audio monitoring units to generate MPEG-H and they have all the capability to monitor and to render audio to the immersive set top.

MBC [Munwha Broadcasting Corp.], for example, already has an OB van for UHD transmission, which has an immersive setup.

TVTechnology:Often the concept of personalized audio falls under the immersive audio umbrella. Will personalization be supported? For instance, bringing up or pushing down the commentators or crowd noise?

SM: That is certainly under discussion—not only to raise or lower it but also about creating a service to provide coverage of the Olympics in more languages.

That way the games will be covered in different languages even if you only watch Korean TV. They would have different commentators.

TVTechnology:You’ve mentioned MBC. What about the involvement of Korean Broadcasting System, KBS, and Seoul Broadcasting System, SBS?

SM: They are working together on the Olympics. There is a kind of consortium involving the three main broadcasters for Olympics coverage.

SBS is kind of the lead broadcaster in the discussion with OBS.

TVTechnology:Production of the Olympics is a unique endeavor compared to other events. Will the lessons learned here help in other live production situations where immersive audio is desired?

SM: For sure. I think that every production we do today, whether it’s a live production or post production, gives us the opportunity to learn more and more about immersive audio and improve for the future. Especially since we have outdoor events and indoor events at the Olympics.

TVTechnology:I’ve seen Fraunhofer’s MPEG-H immersive audio sound bar technology demoed at NAB and IBC. Has any CE company begun offering a commercially available sound bar with that technology for South Korean viewers to use during the Olympics?

SM: I am not allowed to talk about any concrete products, but I think we will see something at CES in a few months.

TVTechnology:Would you like to add anything else?

SM: At IBC, the Korean broadcasters had their own booth and showed what they plan to do in the future.

At the Olympics, they would like to have a prototype of mobile TV using ATSC 3.0. So they showed at the booth a little speaker connected to a tablet where they used an ATSC 3.0 receiver, which decoded the physical layer and the rest of the decoding was done at the tablet for mobile TV.

Korea is one of the few countries where mobile TV is popular. They currently have a mobile TV service, which will be replaced by an ATSC 3.0 mobile service.

That is another reason they want to use MPEG-H for this. They want to enable personalization so the viewer can adapt to the listening environment—whether it’s at a quiet park or a noisy airport—so that viewer can adjust the audio component accordingly.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.