ITU Submits New Broadcast 'Immersive' Audio Standard for Approval

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—The International Telecommunications Union has announced a new audio standard candidate for next generation immersive and personalized audio systems for TV and radio. The new draft Recommendation “Advanced Sound System for Programme Production” is being submitted to ITU membership for the combined adoption and approval procedure.

The ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector’s Study Group 6—which established 5.1 channels as the surround sound standard for broadcasting two decades ago—says the new system will allow TV audiences to be “enveloped” in the sound as it traces the source of the audio track both laterally and vertically across the screen. The ITU says it has developed a “single, coherent approach” that will provide the sufficient flexibility needed to allow various techniques to adapt to the newly proposed standard.

The new standard will allow broadcasters to enhance the audio landscape by supplying more channels of audio that can be “rendered” for use by any additional available loudspeakers or by delivering audio elements that are “dynamically rendered” into existing speakers. Viewers can choose to listen to the enhanced audio through existing stereo or 5.1 speaker systems or install additional speakers. The key to the new standard is that the delivered channels and sound elements are fully described by metadata labeling that drives the rendering as well as the reproduction.

Although it targets the emerging UHDTV format, the immersive audio standard can be used with existing HDTV and SDTV systems as well as in radio and audio compact discs and packaged media. Users can create their own audio landscape through their receivers, according to ITU.

Whether or not the new standard becomes commonplace with consumers, one can draw an analogy to the adoption of 5.1 in the home. TV Technology audio columnist Jay Yeary has his doubts.

“This is the audio industry’s contribution to UHDTV and 4K but there are number of issues with it, primarily whether immersive audio will be adopted in the home,” he said. “Since most of these technologies have a 5.1 mix at the core, they are able to scale to existing systems, but they all require more speakers to really be immersive. In short, this will be a breakthrough if broadcasters figure out how to actually deliver it to the home, if a single format is actually agreed upon for delivery [or if formats can be made cross-compatible], and if the ATSC and EBU methods are compatible [at least for workflow].”

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.