Virtual Stardust

Bowie performs D-cinema concert
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Bowie performs D-cinema concert

LONDON

In one of the largest digital cinema events to date, David Bowie played live to audiences around the world last month to promote his newest album and upcoming concert tour.

Fans throughout Europe, Australia, Asia, North America and South America got the opportunity in September to hear a 5.1 surround sound transmission of a live concert performed by the singer in London. The digital cinema concert, which previewed his new album "Reality," was simulcast live via satellite to theaters in Europe and Asia, Sept. 7-8, (accounting for time zone differences) and rebroadcast later in the Western Hemisphere.

Though it was not the first time performers used a digital simulcast to theaters to bring an intimate show to a large number of fans-a band called Korn broadcast a live New York concert in June 2002 to theaters in dozens of U.S. cities -- the Bowie events reached more countries and included a live question -- and-answer segment with the singer following the broadcasts.

It was also the first concert to be broadcast in 5.1-channel DTS digital surround sound, according to Ted Laverty, director of business development for DTS in Northern Ireland. The manufacturer's CAE-5 professional broadcast encoder was used to encode the multichannel audio feed at the concert.

"David Bowie specifically wanted Surround Sound for the event," Laverty said. "He wanted the highest quality audio possible."

As an enthusiastic supporter of new technology, it's not surprising that Bowie was the first to perform a worldwide digital cinema event. He was an early supporter of e-mail in the 1980's and was one of the first to offer an online download of a song in the mid-90's.

Produced by Sony Music, his concert was held at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London and was shown in 86 theaters in 22 countries, including the U.K., Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Warsaw, Tokyo, Sydney and New York with a total audience of 50,000, said Julie Borchard, senior vice president of international marketing at Sony Music U.S. In the the Americas, the broadcast was held on Sept. 15, the date of Bowie's album release.

At theaters, the 90-minute concert was shown in standard definition. The video quality satisfied Philip Bird, encoder product manager at the U.K. office of Tandberg Television, adding that "it would have made no difference" if the video was high-definition.

Bird attributed the high-quality transmission of the events to Tandberg's low bit-rate MPEG-2-based E5710 standard-definition encoder. Working with its longtime DSNG partner, Kingston inmedia in the U.K., the two companies uplinked the signal onto Eutelsat W2, and transmitted it to the theaters on the day of the concert and during the rebroadcast. Using Tandberg's integrated receiver/decoder devices, they fed the signal to the DTS XD10 digital cinema media player, which output the 96 KHz 24 bit-quality surround sound audio.

DTS' Laverty said the Bowie event was one example of using an XD10, which includes an internal hard drive capable of storing up to 30 feature film soundtracks.

"It can be used to decode a full suite of digital surround sound channels," he said, adding that the player's internal hard drive can be used as the film sound-signal source, and its two DVD drives allow film-sound information to be downloaded to the hard drive.

ONWARD TO HD

Becoming the first encoding platform to integrate a DTS audio pass-through, Tandberg tested out the solution for two months prior to the Bowie events, Bird said. Tandberg and DTS had previous experience with the process, integrating DTS technology in Tandberg's professional receiver decoders used for monitoring at cable headends.

Now that the technology has been tested at such a large event, Laverty said he looks forward to taking it to the next step -- a high-definition broadcast.

"HD is the perfect example of technology that delivers high-quality video and audio," he said. "We see ourselves in a position to supply the high-quality audio."

Bird sees even more potential for Tandberg and DTS to work together on other digital cinema broadcasts.

"I can see this sort of event becoming more popular," he said. "You can reach more people and spread it out geographically."