ESPN Keeps MNF Discrete 5.1 Surround Intact From Field to Home

ESPN/ABC is into the third week of keeping discrete 5.1 sound for Monday Night Football broadcasts intact from the field to its Bristol, CT, plant and from there to viewers’ homes. The DTS-encoded surround sound is embedded in a pair of eight-channel transmissions sent with video from the venue. The same transmission path also has the Lt-Rt main program/international and sanitized audio channels that were the sole audio feeds last season. Discrete 5.1 transmissions commenced with Sept. 13’s Baltimore Ravens-New York Jets game.

According to Kevin Cleary, senior technical audio producer for ESPN, the move was made possible by enhanced audio-management capabilities in Bristol that allow multichannel audio to remain discrete while passing through the plant. But, he says, MNF’s new bigger sound is more a function of intensified listening and monitoring techniques than of additional technology.

“We continue to send back the same show; [the 5.1 discrete audio] is just another layer on top of that,” he explains. “But there is a lot of checking that has to be done along the way, to make sure that there are no channel or phase issues. We monitor every step in the chain because we don’t want to compromise the stereo experience.”

That includes the addition of a high-definition monitoring studio dedicated to monitoring the surround and stereo feeds as they come into Bristol’s audio plant.

The most difficult part of the process was simply finding time to implement it all, Cleary says. “We do so many shows in a weekend, it’s hard to build in new processes as we’re constantly doing live remotes. It’s like doing open-heart surgery on someone running a marathon.”

MNF will continue to have discrete 5.1 sound through the rest of the season. He says the process will be applied to other sports in the future, although decisions have not been made on specific broadcasts yet.

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