Next-Gen TV Promises Immersive, Personalized Audio

By Dr. Richard Chernock

When we look at where television audio standards stand today, it’s hard to reconcile the initial mono sound broadcasts from television’s infancy to where it has evolved with the capabilities of the next generation of broadcast standards, part of ATSC 3.0. This progression of television audio from mono led first to stereo, then a second audio language program (SAP), to ATSC 1.0 digital with the availability of Dolby AC3 Surround Sound—each step advancing audio technology on a steady progression towards making sound more realistic and engaging.


Now, however, new doors are being opened for content developers to leverage the ATSC 3.0 next-generation audio standards and offer a more immersive sound environment, as well as provide end users with a more personalized sound experience. An exploration of ATSC 3.0 audio standards capabilities demonstrates their impact on how we deploy and engage with new sound systems that are evolving along with rapid advancements in the digital world.

Building upon surround sound that’s laid out in a plane (5.1)—such as with initial surround sound systems like Dolby AC3—ATSC 3.0 audio standards take sound to a full 7.1+4 implementation, meaning seven channels of sound in a plane, one channel for a subwoofer (or the low frequencies), and four channels overhead.

On first look, this may just seem like throwing more sound into the mix, but how that sound is delivered is what makes it so unique. With audio experts having a detailed understanding of how the ear works and how humans perceive sound, the new standards can be used more effectively to convey directionality. And, what’s more, this can be done not just on fully equipped home theater speaker systems leveraging all channels, but on something as simple as a sound bar attached to a digital TV. It’s even possible to replicate this immersive 3D sound environment using ordinary headphones.

Imagine the sound of raindrops hitting leaves over your head in a scene filmed in a tropical forest or the oncoming sounds of a helicopter approaching from the side and crossing overhead before moving on and away from you. The possibilities for sound technicians truly are expansive and these new ATSC 3.0 standards involved are designed to scale and accommodate newer, more sophisticated audio scenarios as they emerge, making for a truly immersive 3D, and much more attractive, user experience today and for the future.

While there’s likely to be some time delay related to broadcasters implementing full capability of the new standards, (as well as end users not running out to purchase advanced sound systems), there are other aspects of the new audio technologies that are going to probably be used right away, and that will ultimately be very impactful.

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