NAB 2016

Fraunhofer Retunes MPEG-H 3.0 Audio Efforts

Even though the German research institute came out on the losing side of the battle between it and Dolby to be the audio standard for the ATSC 3.0 in the U.S., it’s won over South Korea and is pushing hard elsewhere around the globe.

 

At the Fraunhofer booth in the south upper hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center at the 2016 NAB Show it feels as if a bit of the air has been let out of the balloon.

That’s because the German research institute — one of the main proponents of MPEG-H — came out on the losing side of the equation in the battle between its approach and Dolby AC-4 to be the audio standard for the ATSC 3.0 standard as implemented in the United States.

While the Advanced Television Systems Committee hasn’t made a formal announcement about which competitive approach will be used in North America, the first public indication that AC-4 was selected for 3.0 in the United States came earlier this year at the HPA Retreat near Palm Springs, Calif., during a slide presentation on the new TV standard.

At the NAB Show, another acknowledgement the Dolby solution will be part of the U.S. implementation is on a sign at a display in the ATSC 3.0 Consumer Experience outside the South Upper Hall.

Still, the German research institute’s next-gen TV audio balloon is far from being deflated. Robert Bleidt, general manager, Fraunhofer USA, predicts MPEG-H will be “the first audio system on air for ATSC 3.0,” just not in the United States.

According to Bleidt, who says the competition between Dolby and Fraunhofer was intense, South Korea will use MPEG-H for its deployment of 3.0 as that nation’s next TV standard. That deployment is expected to begin by the end of the 2016, he says.

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Broadcasters there are expected to be on-air with 3.0 by the first quarter of 2017 to have time to fix out any problems so they can deliver flawless 4K terrestrial TV coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Seoul.

South Korea’s selection of MPEG-H for its ATSC 3.0 implementation is in keeping with the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s decision to allow geographic regions or individual countries to choose which audio standard to use for themselves as a compromise positon to satisfy the competing camps.

At the Fraunhofer booth, MPEG-H encoders from two different South Korean vendors sat in a rack outside a soundproof area reserved for demonstrating the standard.

During a sit-down interview in that area set up as a faux living room for Fraunhofer to demonstrate the remarkable immersive audio experience possible with MPEG-H, Bleidt explained that while the loss to Dolby for the U.S. broadcast market was disappointing, he and the Fraunhofer team will continue with their efforts to see MPEG-H chosen by other U.S. video program distributors, such as cable TV, satellite and over-the-top services.

Having two incompatible, competing audio systems deployed in the United States isn’t as strange as it appears at first glance, he says, pointing to satellite distribution of programming as an example.

The ATSC decision to allow individual regions and countries to choose between MPEG-H and AC-4 for their own 3.0 implementation will likely lead to a fractured world not unlike today’s regionalized TV standards map, he says.

Among terrestrial broadcasters, he envisions AC-4 used in the United States, MPEG-H in South Korea and South America and Dolby and Fraunhofer battling it out with one another on a country-by-country basis in Europe.

Bleidt capped off the interview with a demonstration of MPEG-H’s support for immersive audio. A short video nature segment, which included footage of rain falling in a body of water, highlighted the ability of MPEG-H to immerse the viewer in sound so thoroughly that one gets the sense of being in the scene.

The sound, produced with only a sound bar of Fraunhofer design, created a listening experience so immersive that when it was complete, the first reaction of this reporter was to turn around and see if Fraunhofer had placed surround speakers in the rear of the living room.

Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2016 news here.


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