Tue, 30 Aug 2022 15:36:00 GMT
Whether it’s the new generation of soundbar technology, built-in TV speakers that scan and bounce the sound off of your living room walls, 3D spatial audio in VR technology or simply new, immersive ways of mixing for heightened headphone listening, it’s getting hard to ignore just how advanced immersive sound is becoming.
Some of the biggest tech companies and entertainment platforms are beginning to realise and lean into the exciting, new opportunities that immersive audio presents – and it’s not just changing our blockbuster experiences at the cinema. With this technology becoming more high-fidelity, more affordable and more prevalent in our entertainment appliances at home, we decided to speak with some sound design experts from around the globe and get their thoughts on the tech and what it means for the advertising industry.
In article one of this three-part exploration of immersive sound, experts from Heckler, Squeak E. Clean Studios, Circonflex, Grand Central Recording Studios, Yessian Music, 19 Sound, Factory and HENRYBOY discuss why it’s the next big thing for creative content and why sound designers are responsible for helping to normalise it.
The technology for immersive sound and 3D spatial audio has been around for a while, however, its application in standard television broadcasting delivery is relatively new. Combining the rise of affordable consumer products, and a dramatic increase in immersive audio listeners has created a genuine fertile ground for sound designers and mix engineers.
Consumers no longer need a six-speaker array in their lounge – just two angled speakers and a soundbar. From a sound design perspective, we can now explore object-based audio panning, knowing faithful decoding will use existing structures within the listening environment - the ceiling, rear walls etc.
With immersive audio listeners outnumbering immersive video viewers, we believe this will quickly become a standardised delivery.
New technology is bringing the world of ‘immersive sound’ closer to the average viewer with TV receivers and sound bars capable of decoding and reproducing Dolby Atmos and DTS-X mixes in the home environment. These mixes take on a new level of immersion with the added feature of ‘height’, which is achieved by either mounting speakers above the viewer or using upward-facing speakers that bounce sound off ceilings so that the viewer's perception is that sound comes from above. Ultimately, the viewer is more immersed in the sound mix because it physically wraps around them. These technologies do come at varying price points – basically, the more people spend, the more visceral their experience will be – but entry level is definitely at an affordable level, something that was not achievable until relatively recently.
It’s definitely an exciting time to be working in sound design! With all the immersive audio tech integrated into consumer products now, plus increased ease in calibration and personalisation of playback systems (and headphones), we’re experiencing immersive audio at higher fidelity than ever before! Our headphones can even know the shape of our heads and ears, which helps our brains interpret the psychoacoustic aspects of immersive audio. What this means practically is that we can better perceive surround sound (plus height) in something as simple as a pair of earbuds.
‘Immersive audio’ means I can use specific location and spatial information (think: what kind of room or space is the scene in?) to add real subtlety and detail. Before this tech came along, you would usually put the dialogue in the middle, and you’d have to mix the music and SFX around that to hear all the elements. For example, if it’s raining in a scene, I can make the rain sound like it’s hitting the ground below the listener, just like in reality! And I can place the dialogue in front of the listener, creating a clearer and more natural experience. I can also do cool stuff like whipping the sound around and have it come up from behind to surprise the listener. We can now also follow any camera motion, rather than just on the horizontal (stereo) plane.
Spatial audio technology is becoming the standard delivery requirement for long-form by the streaming giants, with the technology becoming a common built-in for new TVs and sound bars - and Apple Music already making it the norm for headphones. Creatively, the difference is major. An immersive audio soundtrack captivates the audience by placing us within the mix. Sound design can sit openly with dialogue creating a feeling of space, details can be placed which you can’t conventionally achieve in stereo. Ultimately a good immersive mix needs great sound design and our job as sound designers is to show these new technologies off to clients to inspire future creative.
Throughout history, pioneers of the industry have always pushed the boundaries of technology in an effort to normalise new innovations, and sound is no exception. But what’s amazing about sound is that these innovations are motivated equally by both artist and engineer. The technology is made to serve the creative. From Dolby’s first surround sound film release of ‘A Star Is Born’ in 1976, all the way to today’s ground-breaking Dolby Atmos platform, these innovations have always been motivated by the content creator’s need for artistic expression.
How do we normalise this and make it accessible to everyone? Luckily, we are in an age where immersive media technology is advancing daily. Devices are sounding better, internet speeds are blazing fast, and software platforms are supporting more complex designs. Anyone with an iPhone and a pair of headphones can listen to music in Dolby Atmos; there are multiple sound bars that support immersive formats; now off-the-shelf TVs are pre-loaded with Dolby Atmos speaker setups. It’s getting easier and easier to have access to incredible immersive sound, and this is all in response to the content creators insisting that they distribute across streaming platforms that showcase their work in the best way possible.
Netflix, Apple, and Vudu now all stream using Dolby Atmos, which means more and more people are being exposed to these growing immersive audio formats as a normalised experience. This is an incredible opportunity for media creatives and brands alike to jump into the cutting edge of this consumer experience, which is most certainly going to keep growing.
At Factory, we are actively impressing upon agencies and production companies to ‘write immersive audio’ into their scripts and treatments. Considering it at this early stage will help to show off these technologies much more creatively than it being an afterthought. What most don’t know is that starting a project in Dolby Atmos means we can then re-render the mix to traditional 5.1 and, importantly, to stereo too. This can actually result in a more immersive stereo mix than if we were to start in stereo.
What’s more, the technologies available at home are now at a level whereby consumers no longer need expensive individual discreet speakers (although it helps). Sky Glass for example has six Dolby ATMOS speakers incorporated into its design. By utilising up and side-firing speakers to bounce audio off ceilings and walls, the home user can experience immersive audio without going to the cinema.
One problem is that often, the agency doesn’t know whether their ad is going to cinema until late. This means that they won’t be budgeting for it. It’s our job to teach them, and in turn brands, that it’s not just cinema-goers who should get that ear candy. So it all comes back to including Dolby Atmos in your initial stages of pre-production.
Back in the ’50s a TV or the radio were your only sources of audio, a small monophonic speaker restricted to a relatively small frequency range. Fast-forward 70 years and the sound in your front room can be better and more immersive than the most high-tech cinema of its day. Since then, advances have always offered composers and sound designers opportunities to innovate.
The most successful are the ones who make the most use of the new tech. There's always room for nostalgia, but forward-thinking creatives should capitalise on these new opportunities.
Attention to detail is paramount as more and more listeners become increasingly accustomed to higher lever audio and immersion. So not adapting is not only not moving forward, it's also staying behind.
Content creators now have the opportunity to bring listeners that bit closer to their world, to let them hear new sounds in new ways and immerse themselves in new environments, whether that's hyper-real, or strange and wonderful audio worlds of pure science fiction. And as always, the most creative forward thinkers have the most to gain.
I think brands sometimes get excited by the terminology and the potential, but don’t understand what they actually want and need. It’s our job to help them understand the what and the why.
view more - Music & SoundLBB Editorial, Tue, 30 Aug 2022 15:36:00 GMT