3D Panning from Merging rings a Bell

Canada’s leading multimedia company is planning for the future

Puidoux, October 2016: The topic of immersive or 3D audio has captured a lot of headlines recently, but how is this relevant to broadcast? The success of Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D and other cinema formats has stimulated the public’s appetite for a more involving sound experience and sooner or later, this has to have an impact on broadcasting. A number of broadcasters have already stated that some form of object based audio would be the preferred option in the future, but this was in the absence of any defined standard. Canada’s leading multimedia company, Bell Media decided that preparing for future possibilities was extremely important. Getting used to what was possible and practical with the introduction of height channels was not something that could be left to chance, so in March 2015, a special mixing room was created to evaluate what could be achieved. The Dolby Atmos workflow is well defined and provides a route to an object based, multi-speaker end result. The real question was finding a practical solution to record the program and do the post-production. Bell Media owned CTV has been using Merging Technologies’ Ovation Audio Server for a number of years and the operators were familiar with Pyramix being the preparation tool. The upcoming versions of Pyramix and Ovation were planned to include an effective 3D panning solution that seemed to offer what was needed.

Michael Nunan, Bell Media’s Senior Manager for Broadcast Audio and Post Production Operations is leading this project and declares that the main goal is to understand the aesthetic more than the technology. It is essential to understand how ‘more than 5.1 systems’ with height information can best serve the pictures. If UHD pictures with extended audio is to be part of a premium offering to the public, it must offer clear benefits to the subscriber.

The publication of the ATSC 3.0 standard has now occurred with Dolby’s AC4 as a practical way to deliver immersive audio. Canada is not bound to follow that standard yet, but for practical reasons, it would be surprising if that decision is not ratified in the near future. ATSC 3.0 has added a little more urgency to the program since it gives a clear target to aim for.

The room was set up using beta versions of Pyramix and Ovation but it was already clear that Merging was offering a package that was far in advance of other DAW manufacturers. The Pyramix 10/Ovation 6 releases plus the latest refinements and the addition of a 3D mouse is “game changing” according to Nunan. “Our experience with plug in solutions on other DAWs had been very disappointing and we were looking for something intuitive and immediate. Any increase in production cost needs to be minimised, so clunky technology is not what we need. Merging are offering something robust and consistent already and although we have a number of practical hurdles to overcome before this is a commercially viable solution, this is by far the best system we have seen to date. The fact that we already have had a great experience with Ovation during these past years, gives us the confidence that Merging will continue to develop these tools.”

Another attraction of the Merging solution is that it is format agnostic in the sense that the speaker configuration can be anything you want. This means that it not only copes with any existing delivery format, but it can also adapt to any future changes. It is already clear that Bell Media will need to export programs in MPEG-H and in other formats for Japan, for example. Furthermore, Bell Media has invested heavily in Lawo consoles for its major facilities, so Merging’s adoption of the RAVENNA/AES67 Audio over IP technology fits perfectly into the studio infrastructure.

This experiment is not confined to the lab and has already been used for parallel recordings of some prestigious sporting events and awards ceremonies, where very high track counts were used as well as the 3D elements. This has already proven that it not only works, but also there was no major budget overhead with this mode of operation. Practical experience gained in real production environments will be a hugely valuable step in getting a fast and smooth start when UHD kicks off. Michael Nunan further remarked; “We know we have some way to go to make this a completely practical everyday solution, but having this panner now makes it feasible for us to make a meaningful evaluation. We need to trust what we are hearing and Merging has already delivered the tool that achieves that. There is another plus in that we enjoy working with the Merging team and the guys from HHB Canada. They listen rather than just try to sell you things!”

Our first all IP Production environment, featuring Merging Hapi, Ovation and Pyramix, as well as ProTools (via Merging Virtual Audio Device) and a Lawo mc36 console / stagebox combination.

Opening Ceremony, PanAm 2015.
Broadcast Audio Services mobile truck, Michael Nunan and Anthony Montano (the pair shared mixing duties for the show)
In addition to Ovation and 2 x Pyramix systems, approx 1/3rd of our assets for the show were inbound from the field via Ravenna.

2016 Juno Awards
Broadcast Audio Services mobile truck.
Similar setup to above. Multiple Pyramix + Ovation. This was our first 4K (UHD) telecast of an Awards/Variety Special, and was also mixed (although not transmitted) in Surround+Height for the first time.

with Pro Tools Laptop