Audio quality taking a beating from "cable cut" consumers and streaming companies
High Quality Audio is under siege.
As the options for entertainment explode around us, audio is once again sucking hind tit.
I attach a link to a report from the "Streaming Media East" conference in New York last month. The conference seemed focused on the issues of complaint by consumers who have (mistakenly in my view) decided to "cut the cord" to their cable TV provider, replacing this programming with streaming apps on some other device (Apple TV, Amazon Fire, etc).
And the issues that seemed to garner the most attention are "picture" related. Programs too slow to start streaming. Sports programming that lags "live" by 30 seconds or more. Lack of 60 frame support. All of these ON TOP of the usual complaints of glitches, buffering stalls, etc.
For those (like me) who really subscribe to the George Lucas statement that “sound and music are 50% of the experience”, this is just a continuation of the devaluing of the audio experience by those that are selling our work to the public.
And while the story shared here took the optimistic view that "streaming TV has the potential to surpass cable TV in quality". What a load of crap they’re selling! Cable TV has yet to surpass broadcast TV signals, and that’s with the incredibly flawed ATSC 2 system we currently use. (Picture discussion for another time. . although I haven’t seen a “smooth camera pan” in years due to all the data compression and missing frames).
NONE OF THIS GIVES ME ANY COMFORT!
Hulu said “surround sound is on our radar”, and Fox admitted “Dolby is at the bottom of our wish list”, blaming the lack of support on viewers who aren’t “asking for it”. This last statement is probably true, although irrelevant. Virtually all of this programming, whether created for the cinema or commercial television, was created with surround sound when produced. What gives these companies the right to streamcast these programs with inadequate audio?
As someone who has participated for decades in Standards-writing organizations, including over 25 years at the SMPTE, I’ve witnessed the process change from quality-driven to “what’s best for the tech companies”. A case in point is Dolby. During the writing of the Digital Cinema Standards, Dolby repeatedly pushed Dolby Digital for the new Standard, despite it being extremely bandwidth limited with known serious artifacts and generally poor audio quality. They pushed it with the argument that it “saved more data for picture quality”. As most known, the Digital Cinema Standard as approved carries full-bandwidth, AES audio channels without any data compression or reduction.
This meant that when Hollywood fully switched over to Digital Cinema, there would be no need for Dolby, or the Dolby Logo, on anything coming out of Hollywood. It was little surprise when Dolby (by purchasing a French company) suddenly showed up with a new “Dolby Atmos” logo that could be jammed into the movie credits. Never mind that Atmos is the worst of the immersive sound formats (much as Dolby Digital was the worst of the cinema formats). And with Dolby providing upwards of $1M in funding to SMPTE and filling the voting groups with Dolby personnel, their work is complete.
It’s about the logos, not the technology.
In fact, some of the streaming channels have the ability to “trigger” the surround decoding in your home theater system even though they’re not actually sending the data thru.
Is this just a continuation of the denigration of audio quality at the altar of convenience? That’s what the iPod was all about - and engineers at the AES struggle to regain the “quality” argument in any meaningful way. Most home TV viewers struggle to understand even the dialog from thinner-than-thin TV panels that have the world’s worst speakers firing of the back of the set.
It’s chaos. It’s time audio engineers get involved in pushing back. Clearly the audio companies that SHOULD be taking a leadership position have no interest in doing so. The product being streamed on Hulu, Netflix, or a major network like Fox or NBC already have the "surround sound" logo on them. Actually DELIVERING this quality experience is of no consequence to them. Once the "logo" is on a product, their work is done. Actually getting the product used is just as irrelevant as providing a quality audio experience to the consumer.