Pieter Schillebeeckz: Why SoundField was logical pickup for TSL

At the 2013 NAB Show, TSL Professional Products announced a number of new products, including several under the SoundField banner. TSL acquired Soundfield in 2012.

Broadcast Engineering spoke with Pieter Schillebeeckz, head of research and development at SoundField, about the merger of the two companies.

Broadcast Engineering: Please explain why SoundField was a logical acquisition for TSL.

Pieter Schillebeeckz: "By adding the SoundField surround microphones and processors to TSL’s market-leading portfolio, the company can now provide solutions for use throughout the production process, from acquisition to delivery. 

“With TSL audio monitoring units becoming a standard fixture in many broadcast production facilities, particularly the Touchmix and PAM family of products (which are synonymous with surround sound); the SoundField range of microphones and processing gear allows the company to provide a more complete offering to market.

“A single SoundField mic is all that’s needed to generate an accurate ambient surround bed simultaneously in stereo and 5.1 audio for SD and HD transmission. It is this precise sound capture that has made [our] microphones and upmix/downmix processors the sonic tools of choice for broadcasters such as BSkyB (UK), Disney (USA), BBC (UK), Sogecable (Spain), NRK (Norway), RTS (Serbia) and SABC (South Africa), as well as event companies like Video Sound Services (FIFA World Cup) for quality 5.1 surround recording, transmission and production. 

“In recent years, [we have] also established itself as a leader in audio processing technologies, with the UPM-1 stereo-to-5.1 upmixer considered by many leading engineers as possessing one of the best-sounding upmix algorithms available.”

BE: Why is it desirable to have a unit like the X-1 that can detect whether a signal is stereo or 5.1? If other multichannel formats gain popularity, will the X-1 be modified to accommodate them as well?

PS: “Although more and more 5.1 content is becoming available, for the foreseeable future, many broadcasters still do not have established workflows for archiving or editing in 5.1, and there are still very few available effects and music libraries in true 5.1. Other broadcasters would like to provide audio in surround, but cannot yet make the considerable investment required to mix in discrete-channel 5.1.

“Stereo audio, in short, is likely to be around for many years at least, and some means of rendering this in 5.1 will be needed by HD broadcasters for some time. This creates a challenge for the broadcaster striving towards a constant 5.1 output across all its programming. 

“The X-1 solves this issue by automatically detecting the incoming format. When a 5.1 program is detected, it will pass through the X-1 unaltered. However, when a stereo program is detected, the X-1 will automatically start to upmix the program to 5.1.

“The X-1 can be software updated to support other surround sound formats as and when broadcasters begin to adopt them.”

BE: Algorithms designed to generate audio designed to be ported into surround speakers from a stereo source have been around for some time. Although useful, this technology is seen by many as dated. Why come out with a product like the UPM-1 at this time?

PS: “When looking at upmixing, a clear distinction needs to be made between upmixing for consumer use and upmixing for professional use. Upmixing for consumer use was developed to create 5.1 from stereo for anyone with a surround sound playback system in the home. These kinds of systems have been around for many years and are great for their intended purpose. Upmixing for professional use, however, has very different criteria, chief among which is the downmix compatibility of the upmixed 5.1. Any 5.1 anywhere in the broadcast chain needs to be downmix compatible and this is something that isn’t offered by the older consumer upmixers. 

“[Our] upmix algorithm was developed from the ground up for professional broadcast applications and, therefore, to be downmix compatible. In this professional domain, the demand for upmixers is becoming ever greater as broadcasters strive to create a constant 5.1 program output but still have to deal with a lot of stereo content.”

BE: Forgive my ignorance on this one, but are any of the components in the DSF-B package new, or is this simply a bundling of existing products?

PS: “The DSF-B does indeed combine three existing SoundField products into a ‘Broadcast package.' It is made up of the DSF-2 Surround Sound Microphone, DSF-2 Processor and the DSF-3 Processor. It’s a one-stop shop, which provides simultaneous digital surround and stereo soundscapes of large-scale outside broadcast events, such as sports stadiums and concert hall venues.

"Using the DSF-B removes need for multiple arrays, generates multichannel audio from a 'single-point' source, has perfect downmix compatibility with mono or stereo, and microphone parameters are controlled remotely, including orientation, angle, pickup pattern and rotation."