As the surround market matures, so, too, has the annual professional surround conference, Surround 2001. A record number of attendees and exhibitors filled the Beverly Hilton in early December for two days of equipment demonstrations and twin presentation tracks. This year’s conference took more of a practical approach. “The Case Studies or How I Did That’ approach to the sessions worked very well for this conference,” says program chair (and Surround Professionals west coast bureau chief) Bobby Owsinski. “This allows the presenter to actually describe the working methods and thought processes involved during a project.”
An example of this approach was the presentation of Oscar-winner Chris Jenkins, senior vice president of sound services at Universal, who gave a fascinating demonstration of the art of mixing for film. Playing two scenes from the Ron Howard feature, A Beautiful Mind, he demonstrated how music, dialog, and effects work to reinforce the themes of a film without crowding each other. “You must choose what not to use,” he revealed.
Steve Parr from London’s Hear No Evil revealed his techniques for mixing music for theatrical film release, and Bob Margouleff and Brant Biles from Mi Casa in Los Angeles presented a masterclass in remixing features for DVD release. “Always make friends with the dubbing mixer,” advised Parr, and never put anything into the surrounds that you don’t want to risk losing. Of the DVD remix process, Margouleff explained, “It’s the convergence of the music, film, and broadcast worlds.”
Biles observed that “home theater is much more critical” of a film mix, and potential flaws such as poor audio edits must be avoided. But above all, they noted, remastering for DVD is an artistic process. The entire DVD, including any supplemental material such as interviews and deleted scenes, must be thought of as a single entity, with no noticeable difference between the various audio tracks.
John Eargle discussed his experiences in recording, primarily orchestral, for surround release. His recording is done primarily in stereo pairs, eight tracks total. An “accurate and stable frontal image” is a fundamental goal for surround projects, and Eargle said that eight channels gives classical recordists “enough options that they can hardly exhaust them.” A white paper was made available through the JBL/Harman demo room, where Eargle gave additional well-attended lectures.
A demonstration of Ambisonics by engineer/producer Richard Elen, an authority on the system, offered some insight into an “under-exploited” multichannel encoding method that was developed in the UK in the 1970s. The Ambisonics B Format contains all of the information necessary to spread the surround soundfield across as many speakers as desired, and to remix’ it into any format. Dr. Thomas Chen, based in northern California, has developed an easy to use GUI using Creamware hardware to control the Ambisonics production process – monitored at his facility through a system consisting of eight upper and lower speakers evenly distributed in a circle.
“Educate your clients in Surround,” said Charlie Watts of Enterprise Mastering, who reports seeing a broad variety of delivery formats arrive at Enterprise for DVD-V and -A mastering and authoring – 2-inch analog, the “flawless” performing Euphonix R-1, Sonic HD drives, DTRS tape, and streaming tape archival formats.
Watts said their process takes 29 to 62 hours per title, with the quality control method being the prime factor in time spent. Soloing each track in headphones for a total of six passes was called the best method, while they will also have three separate individuals listen to full passes of all tracks as another alternative.
“Make sure you know what’s going on above 20 kHz,” cautioned Watts, a sentiment shared by David Glasser, chief engineer and founder of Airshow Mastering, who discussed the need for improved metering, among other tools, for the Super Audio CD format. Glasser said that, while a Super Audio CD is physically a DVD disc (in terms of replication and structure), mastering for SACD is only marginally more complicated than mastering a conventional Red Book CD – with SACD there is no metadata, no downmix, no complicated menu options.
As with Watts and his DVD-A experiences, Glasser said, “QC is more important than ever,” requiring a trained staff and a critical monitoring environment. For their QC, the staff listens to two channels at a time, in headphones – an hour for the (optional) Red Book layer, an hour for the 2-channel DSD layer, and three hours for the surround channels, plus time for checking text. Because of the lack of tools, and of a complete infrastructure for multichannel DSD work, Glasser predicted that work for eventual SACD work will begin in the PCM domain: “I think what’s going to happen is more people will work in high bit rate PCM – 192 kHzSand sample convert as the final step.”
Glasser said the needs of the SACD community are a standardized DSD interface, a standardized file format, a really good multitrack editor, DSD transfer tools, DSD metering, a practical DSD multitrack recorder, DSD (or oversampled PCM) processing, options for up- and downsampling, and SACD-R drives.
Gaming is hotter than ever – even in a troubled economy, Electronic Arts boasts a 30 percent boost in stock value over the past year. EA’s audio guru Murray Allen said that, for surround audio, the new PlayStation 2 and Xbox have the advantage over the Nintendo Game Cube. The Game Cube is “not in the race” according to Allen, who said its capabilities are limited to 2-channel matrix encoded audio like Dolby Pro Logic. Getting surround out of the Xbox is “relatively straightforward” said Allen, explaining that the system has a processor dedicated to decoding Dolby Digital. With PS2, a 5.1 DTS music mix requires 3 percent of the CPU’s processing strength. The first titles are out for DTS on PS2, and the presentation showed various levels of the building blocks necessary to develop the current generation of highly textured game sounds.
Technical issues were not ignored in the presentations, with Thomas Lund of TC Electronic causing a spirited debate when discussing tests that show that intersample peaks, which can venture above 0 dBFS, can create significant performance issues in D/As and sample frequency converters, and during processing in consoles and work stations. A call for better file interchange was heard across several sessions, with AES31 being championed by numerous participants in the conference.
Exhibitors and sponsors for Surround 2001 included Denon Electronics, TC Electronic, Steinberg, DTS Entertainment, Genelec, and Third Wave Media. Also exhibiting their wares were dbx/JBL Professionial/Lexicon, Dorrough Electronics, Echo Digital Audio, Eventide, Kurzweil, Mackie Designs, Manley Labs, Miller & Kreisal Professional (M&K), Martinsound, SRS Labs, TMH Labs, and Transamerica Pro Audio.
Additional coverage of the conference, including comments from Steinberg’s new Nuendo Producers Group, the car audio community, pioneering record labels, producers, and engineers, and various manufacturers can be found in the January edition of Pro Sound News