What 3D Sports Broadcasting Means for Surround Audio

It’s clear that, in 2010, 3D is going to be a factor in sports broadcasting for the first time. Less clear is where that will leave 5.1 surround audio broadcasting, which has just hit its stride in the past couple of years. There’s no shortage of opinions.

“I think that [sports broadcasts in 3D] will make 5.1 surround audio compulsory,” says Jonathan Godfrey, CEO of surround microphone maker Holophone. “It will really propel the idea of 5.1 becoming the norm, not just for larger events but also at the collegiate level.”

He speculates that sports audio mixers may have to adjust mixing techniques to accommodate the added dimension. In particular, the dynamics of front-to-rear fades may become broader and more pronounced. “And it might lead to rethinking where we put the dialog,” he adds. “The 3D picture is an immersive experience, and the sound will have to become more immersive as well.”

Videogames may offer something of a template. In fact, a Holophone HD-3 surround microphone was used to record ambient 5.1 tracks for EA Sports’ most recent soccer title, FIFA 10.

3D broadcasts could also prompt some experimentation with larger-scale multichannel formats, such as 7.1. Will Eggleston, director of marketing for speaker manufacturer Genelec, points out that 2D television has x and y axes (left to right, up and down) and surround audio has a y axis and a z (depth) axis. “In a sense, surround audio gave video the depth dimension 2D television lacked,” he explains. “With 3D video, the audio will need to step up in terms of its own dimensionality.”

He also wonders how mixers themselves will deal with video monitoring in the trucks: “How many mixers will be wearing [3D] glasses to mix with?”

Mike Mundt, director of engineering for remote-systems provider New Century Productions, wonders the same thing but says that, at some point, audio mixers are going to want to at least have the option to view the program monitor in 3D, to adjust the depth of the surround channels to match what viewers at home are seeing.

“It’s going to take a while to shake out,” he says. “But we know this: monitors that are equipped to do 3D don’t necessarily have to be used that way, but monitors that aren’t equipped for 3D definitely ain’t going to be used that way. So we will see some changes coming down the road.”

As LCD prices drop, consumer-electronics manufacturers are promoting 3D as the next wave. Surround broadcast audio took a good six or so years to unfold. If Moore’s Law can be applied here, 3D — and its impact on sports sound — might be something we can watch unravel in a frame close to real time.

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