In-Venue Audio Takes the Spotlight

By Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

On the field or on the air, sound remains the third dimension to the sports experience. While broadcast sound is on the verge of entering its next format era, with the so-called immersive-audio formats like Dolby’s AC-4 and the MPEG-H Alliance’s eponymous entry apparently ready to join stereo and 5.1 surround for sports, live sound in the stadiums and arenas continues its own march forward.

The basic system types for most venues remain unchanged: the point-source design, whose ability to throw prodigious amounts of SPL long distances suits it for massive college football stadiums, and the line array, which offers precise and predictable coverage that helps maintain speech intelligibility. What has changed, though, is the sheer number of products available for venue-systems designers. That was in plain view at the InfoComm Show in June, which saw the largest number of live-sound exhibitors ever, with sports-venue applications high on many manufacturers’ agendas.

Also changing is the level of active DSP integrated into the systems, permitting more-precise horizontal and vertical coverage patterns, particularly with line arrays. Software-based processing can create steerable beams of audio that are as aimable as a spotlight beam and can keep audio on audiences and away from reflective surfaces.

Sports venues continue to see more subwoofers in systems. In part, because venues are expected to be able to accommodate a wider array of non-sports events to pull in extra revenue to pay for construction bonds and overhead costs, and subs offer the extended low-frequency response needed for music. And, second, because, well, more bass is expected everywhere these days, from television to cinema to concerts to church.

Venue architectural and systems designers are paying more attention to acoustics of late. It’s a trend that dovetails nicely with the availability of more precisely aimable loudspeaker systems. However, it also finds those same designers walking the fine line between building facilities that foster desirable noise to create enthusiasm and home-team advantage, and overwhelming noise that creates problems with neighbors.

There may be more channels in audio’s future, but there will also be fewer wires. Networked audio has been around for a while, but platforms like CobraNet, EtherSound, Livewire, and others came to market over a span of more than a decade. Starting in the 1990s, they were separated by enough time, space, and functionality to not quite gel into what might then have looked like a movement.

Now, with the market dominance of the proprietary Dante networking format as well as the growth of Q-SYS and other formats, the arrival of standards-based interoperability protocol AES67 and the speedier proliferation of the Audio-Video Bridging (AVB) standard, audio has moved to a networked paradigm in which hundreds of signals can be transported across a single fiber cable. Putting speakers, amplifiers, processors, and mixers onto a single venue-wide LAN will make it easier to build and maintain a venue’s audio infrastructure while simplifying its use.

More is going to be expected of venue audio in coming years, as stadiums and arenas take on more tasks. The good news is that tools for meeting those challenges are at hand. The only thing that digital technology hasn’t figured out yet is how to clone the money needed to meet bigger budgets.

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