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HDTV audio: Abominable, fabulous or both

Multichannel sound has a long way to go to get caught up with HD, according to Shelly Palmer, chairman of the Advanced Media Committee (AMC) for the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. And he said it needs to get there quickly because HDTV is already becoming well-entrenched with consumers.

"There are allocation of bandwidth issues, which is typical when you have different video formats," Palmer said. "ABC is using 720p because they said it looks better for the kinds of sports action programming they do. [ABC owns ESPN, which also has its own HD channel.] PBS 13 HD and Discovery HD are running 1080i. That changes the bandwidth relationship between audio and video in each format. The result is inconsistent sound between HD channels."

Palmer said too much of HD’s audio is upconverted, just as video is, in the rush to create HD content. The key, Palmer said, is to make the audio match the picture in scope and scale and quality. To achieve this sound, stations need to look at a more cinematic post production model for audio in the HDTV realm.

The AMC runs two HD audio workshops a year. As the issues become more apparent to consumers, the workshops will become more intensive, he said.

Currently, the digital audio output is not controllable from the cable remote. If consumers want to be able to control volume, they'll have to settle for the analog audio outputs. According to Palmer, HDTV is not ready for prime time.

He uses Time Warner Cable to illustrate his point. Time Warner does not fully control its bandwidth. The quality of the service depends on the location and how many people share the feed.

"This is part of the growing pains of a new format," he said. "But we need to address it. Soon."

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