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Audio's new phase

A new Sports Audio Processor designed to make it easier for audio quality to be maintained from a mobile production truck to the viewer at home was used last week by ABC Sports for its coverage of the Tournament of Roses parade and the Rose Bowl.

The product was designed by National Mobile Television, which is looking to vend more than just trucks, in conjunction with SRSWOWcast Technologies. The two companies are introducing two products (the Broadcast Phase Protector is the other one) designed to solve some ages-old headaches involved in producing and transmitting surround sound and stereo audio signals from events like sporting events and concerts.

"I want us to be more than a vendor," says Jerry Gepner, president of NMT, "in some sense, to have an obligation to be a main source of technology for our customers."

The prototype units used by ABC Sports were in NMT's A30 analog production truck and the DX3 expandable digital production truck. Gepner says the SAP pulls the mix all the way forward and allows the production companies to "mix the effects at a higher level without having to bury the announcers." Most events will benefit from the technology. Example: Golf tournaments, where the announcers whisper so that they don't compete with the mix of the ball going in the cup.

"It gives a lot more room between the announcers and the effects mix," he says. The problem facing broadcasters, he adds, is that, in the truck, the mix sounds great but, as soon as the signal leaves the truck, it goes through encoding and decoding processes. "Dynamic range gets reduced, and what happens is the difference that you hear on the half-million-dollar console in the truck is lost."

The Sports Audio Processor encodes much of that lost information so it's fully restored in the television set. And like the Broadcast Phase Protector, it's single-ended: It needs to appear only once in the chain, and it's set for the consumer, without the need for decoding. "It gives a lot more dynamic range, but, at the end of the day, you still have a 3-inch speaker on the TV," he says. "We aren't creating something that wasn't there. We're preserving it so it gets home."

Developed together, the Sports Audio Processor and Broadcast Phase Protector represent a growth in strategy for both companies. NMT, with a fleet of 42 mobile production vehicles, has been known more for buying lots of products than for selling and distributing them. SRSWOWcast Technologies is a subsidiary of SRS Labs, an audio-, voice- and surround-sound-technology company known primarily for behind-the-scenes efforts in marketing technology to major consumer electronics manufacturers like Sony and Pioneer.

According to SRSWOWcast Technologies Director of Marketing Jennifer Dreschler, the rest of the NMT fleet will be outfitted during the next six to nine months with the new gear. NMT will have an exclusive window before it begins offering the products to other customers.

Of the two products, the unglamorous one is the Broadcast Phase Protector, which solves problems associated with out-of-phase audio signals, which lead to at-home viewers' wondering why they can't hear the announcers but can hear the rest of the stereo mix.

The problem can pop up in a number of places, most often in a home where the viewer has the speakers hooked up incorrectly or in the cable plant, where audio lines again can be crossed up.

"It's really much like a vaccine process," Gepner says. "If there is nothing wrong or no disease, there is no impact at all. But if there are any problems with phase reversal anywhere along the line, this will make sure that the center channel never disappears."

The problem of phase reversal is that information common to both left and right channels disappears if one of the channels is out of phase from the other. And the information most commonly found in both channels is the announcers. Thus, the announcers seemingly vanish. And the complaints start flooding in.