Will HDTV mean surround sound TV?

While broadcasters have been considering offering HDTV to their viewers, few have given audio any thought as the technologies available so far to provide it would easily drain their bandwidth. DTS and Coding Technologies have now addressed this issue with the launch of a transcoding system that promises optimal transmission bandwidth usage with high quality multi-channel surround sound. Digital Studio reports.

  • E-Mail
By  Vijaya Cherian Published  December 1, 2006

I|~|bigsound.jpg|~|From left: Gerald Moser of Coding Technologies and Ted Laverty of DTS launch new STB transcoding system.|~|HDTV is coming. In the US, Japan, Australia, and many countries throughout Europe and Scandinavia, it has already arrived, or is planned to imminently do so. Satellite and cable operators are already publicly broadcasting HD channels, and terrestrial broadcasters, like the BBC, are conducting trials. UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB, which launched its HD service to coincide with the HD broadcast of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, has recently announced that it already has 96,000 subscriber households for Sky HD. In the Middle East, there are HD ready plasma and LCD displays aplenty. In fact, several companies such as Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, LG and Toshiba highlighted their HD screens at GITEX, the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition that was held last month in Dubai. However, there has been no planned introduction of HD services as yet although this does not mean that it is not imminent. 0With such a high proportion of imported content, the advance of HD in Europe and the US is bound to have a knock-on effect on satellite services to the region, at the same time as growing numbers of consumers will be looking for something impressive to view on their new high definition, flat displays. As soon as satellite HD services come on-stream, the pressure will be for cable and terrestrial broadcasters to follow suite. One can reliably predict that the UAE will be one of the early regional adopters. In Dubai, expectations of the emirate’s high technology aspirations amongst tourist and commercial visitors, as well as the city’s international business community, will have to be realised in terms of the best international broadcasting standards. While there is no official roadmap for the transition to HD, there are indications of growing — if disparate — investment in the Middle East. There is already much filming in HD among local production companies producing features and documentaries, and a growing investment in HD acquisition by rental companies. In fact, Lebanese cameraman, Joseph Hindy, who is based in Dubai, recently announced that he has the entire spectrum of HD equipment necessary to do a complete production and post project from Dubai itself. Additionally, the launch of Al Jazeera International last month marks the Middle East’s first fully HD specified broadcaster. Also, the announcement of Dar-Al Watan’s major new HDTV facility in Kuwait for the production of HD programming for the region is a significant milestone. Meanwhile, E-Vision, Dubai’s monopoly cable operator, has announced that its next generation of set-top boxes from Thomson, intended to provide for what it describes as the “networked multimedia home”, will be HD ready. The educated guess is that HDTV will arrive in the UAE and much of the region within two years. What HD represents in terms of improved picture quality – 720p, 1080i or 1080p – is a given set of standards. What it will provide in terms of sound, however, is at the discretion of the individual broadcasters, with a plethora of audio options now available within the DVB specifications. In Europe and the US, it is accepted that, for premium content at least – movies, drama, major sports and other entertainment events – surround sound is a given. The convergence of flat screen and home cinema surround sound products in the consumer space, driven by DVD home entertainment, offers broadcasters the opportunity to provide HD pictures with multi channel audio, ahead of any likely mass-market penetration of the new HD optical media formats – Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD. The issue for broadcasters in delivering high quality surround sound is nearly always one of budget as well as audio eating into bandwidth that they would prefer to employ to deliver additional channels, or interactive services. The provision for surround sound broadcasting has existed within the DVB specifications for sometime, and broadcasters in Europe — both satellite and terrestrial — have made limited use of it. ||**||II|~||~||~|While, at just 384 kbps for Dolby Digital, the required additional bandwidth per channel is hardly excessive, across programme multiplexes, it can add up to a significant figure compared with that required for stereo. This was addressed at IBC recently by DTS and Coding Technologies, who recently teamed up to show a new technology that could reduce the bandwidth more than half. They demonstrated a set top box (STB) transcoding system, enabling the transmission of aacPlus encoded 5.1 channel surround at a rate of just 160kbps, with the same audio quality as 384kbps Dolby Digital transmissions, to be received and decoded by almost any home theatre system as DTS Digital Surround (DTS Coherent Acoustics codec). The transcode is integrated in a single decoder chip within the STB. Such chips are already available from a number of IC manufacturers, and several STB manufacturers are developing compatible products. Coding Technologies’ MPEG-4 aacPlus development, also known as HE-AAC, is an integral part of the MPEG open standard. It offers an unrivalled combination of high quality audio and bandwidth efficiency. In third party tests conducted by several independent organisations, including the EBU (European Broadcast Union), MPEG (Moving Pictures Expert Group) and IRT (Institut für Rundfunktechnik), specifically for 5.1 surround sound, at 160 kbps aacPlus provided the same perceived audio quality as 384 kbps Dolby Digital. Transcoding the aacPlus signal in the STB to DTS Coherent Acoustics at 1.5Mbps, as with DVD, the high DTS bit delivers highly accurate signal reproduction to an AV receiver, audibly transparent when compared with the original source programme material. With DTS decoding incorporated in virtually all home theatre systems and AV receivers (a consumer install base of over 50 million DTS-enabled systems worldwide), the aacPlus/DTS transcode effectively provides broadcasters with access to the same potential surround sound consumer base as Dolby Digital, while offering a unique combination of quality and efficiency in delivering surround sound as a high value component of their HD offering. “For broadcasters, this really does offer the best of all worlds: optimal transmission bandwidth usage, highest quality multi-channel surround sound, and complete compatibility with all DTS-enabled domestic receivers,” says Ted Laverty, director of Global Broadcast Licensing, DTS. “Crucially for broadcasters, the business model is simple, with no introduction periods where revenues are restricted. From day one, broadcasters have access to a multi-million global viewing audience through DTS-enabled home theatre receivers.” DTS and Coding Technology demonstrated the system with full HD video content throughout IBC, attracting serious interest from many broadcasters planning their HD infrastructures – and not only from Europe. “For any broadcaster actively considering its HDTV business, the aacPlus/DTS transcode is a ‘must see’ or rather ‘must hear’,” says Stefan Meltzer, vice president of Business Development for Coding Technologies. “This technology is tried and tested, and millions of home theatre owners can enjoy the end product immediately at no extra cost.” ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code