2017 Was a Noisy, Novel Year in Sound

600 MHz reallocation was completed, new standards were released, mics were everywhere

When it comes to audio, 2017 was an eventful year. For starters, it saw the end of the largest reallocation of RF spectrum yet, as the 600 MHz range, already made denser by an earlier eviction of wireless microphones from the 700 MHz bands, was summarily overtaken by wireless-mobile interests. Stage 4 of the FCC’s forward auction ended Jan. 18 with wireless operators bidding $17.7 billion for the 84 MHz of TV spectrum on the block. Wireless-audio manufacturers, waiting to see what spectrum would be left after the auction in order to plan for the next generation of wireless mics, were glad to have clarity and certainty return.

“We’re relieved that the process has finished,” said Mark Brunner, VP, corporate and government relations, Shure, at the time. “Now we know what spectrum is off the table. The transition has been accomplished. But now the real work begins.”

That was amplified the same month at Dale Pro Audio’s RF Summit 2017 with a series of presentations and panels featuring technology executives at wireless-systems manufacturers and RF-spectrum managers. An audience of 40-plus gathered in Dale Pro Audio’s event and demo space to hear representatives from all the major wireless-microphone brands discuss their various solutions. Among them were Jackie Green, president/CTO, Alteros; Gary Rosen, global sales manager, Pliant Technologies; and Geoff Shearing, CEO, Radio Active Designs.

Last year also saw a number of new standards and protocols announced and integrated. For instance, the Audio Engineering Society’s Audio Guidelines for Over-the-Top Television and Video Streaming (AGOTTVS) technical group updated its preliminary recommendations focused on managing the loudness and loudness range of program and interstitial content distributed OTT and by online video distributors (OVDs) to maintain and improve the sonic integrity and listening experience across multiple devices. Also, InfoComm International (now AVIXA) announced release of updated standard Audio Coverage Uniformity (ACU) in Listener Areas (ANSI/INFOCOMM A102.01:2017). The standard is available at infocomm.org/standards.

Train, Train
As new platforms, such as object-based audio and fully networked audio systems entered the arena, training was a major focus:

  • A free tutorial on the mc² audio console became the first course in the new Lawo Online Academy.
  • The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS), as part of training-program development, announced development of an online training regimen for Atmos broadcast applications for Dolby.
  • SMPTE’s ST 2110 suite of standards is covered in a new virtual-classroom course. Understanding SMPTE ST 2110: Live Production of Professional Media Over Managed IP Networks explores various aspects of the standard, including video, audio, and data encapsulation; identification and synchronization; and traffic shaping.
  • Fraunhofer IIS, developer of the MPEG-H immersive-audio codec, recently concluded training of South Korean broadcasters ahead of the format’s deployment as part of the country’s launch of ATSC 3.0 as its television-broadcast standard this year. The MPEG-H audio codec was included as part of the Korean standard for terrestrial UHDTV after tests last year.

Meanwhile, audio professionals are trying to figure out the best ways to implement new audio formats, such as immersive sound. Jason Taubman, VP, design and technology, Game Creek Video, notes that some of the key hardware and software elements to support immersive audio, such as audio consoles, remain over the horizon. “Clients are also still working on how they want their audio monitors configured in relation to their video monitors [in the audio compartment],” he says. “There are a lot of pieces still being moved around; adding more for immersive audio will complicate that.”

A Really Big Show
Co-located with last year’s the unified NAB New York show, the AES Show saw increased combined numbers and optimism, at least partly as a result of some of the gravitational pull of the larger event. The word synergy was heard often on the AES show floor.

“This has been like a little, local [Society of Broadcast Engineers] meeting,” says Vinnie Macri, product marketing manager, Clear-Com. Clear-Com was among a handful of audio-centric companies — including SSL, Riedel, and Lawo — that maintained a small stand on the NAB side of the Javits Convention Center. “It’s a great way to get more focus on audio from the broadcast perspective. Plus, there are a lot of really good sessions around audio here, and more of them.

More Mics
Microphones are turning up in more places than ever, so it was fitting that 2017 marked the 10th anniversary of the wired athlete. The first Quantum5X PlayerMic was developed for the NBA in 2007. Since then, it has become a staple of NBA broadcasts on ESPN, ABC, Turner Sports, CBS and NBA Network. On-player audio has spawned a huge niche in the sport and has been integrated into the individual and collective branding strategies around players and teams. The NBA maintains its own online home for its player sound. Microphones are also all over the fields of play, too, planted in the infield and outfield for postseason MLB on several networks this year. Baseball also hit a milestone last year with Fox Sports’ fully networked postseason audio: all the consoles used during the World Series were networked for the first time. “This is definitely a milestone this year, moving completely away from copper,” said A1 Joe Carpenter. “Pretty cool.”

If this writer had to choose a favorite audio development for the past year, it would surely be the more assertive noise made by racing drones. The Drone Racing League’s new Racer3 larger 6-in.-diameter propellers — 20% larger than the previous generation’s props — combined with the more powerful battery engines to exponentially enhance their sound.

“We didn’t realize the thing was so damn loud until we raced it with real pilots,” says Ryan Gury, director of product, DRL. “A big-block NASCAR engine can sound scary, but, when these [drones] hit their top speed, they sound absolutely ferocious.”

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