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Sound at the BBC Television Center (part 9)

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Stereo operations

“You can adopt a few basic rules of thumb really. You can divide programmes
on television into two kinds. There is one kind in which there is an arena or
stage with a presentation going on which the audience is looking at. Most light
entertainment and most outside broadcast programmes are like this, you know
the event is happening in front of you and you are looking at it from the audience’s
point of view. If you set up a stereo picture to match that, then even when
they take close ups of parts of the action, or cut ins or whatever, you don’t
need to change it because your brain knows where everything is, and once in
a while you will come back to a wide shot and see the geography anyway. Then
there’s the other kind which is typical of a drama presentation in which
the viewer’s point of view changes with the camera angle as it moves from
set to set, or from one part of the set to another part of the set and then
you have to move the stereo viewpoint to go with it. At times, if you do that
slavishly you will produce some jarring results, so we have a rule that if what
you are doing is arguing with the picture then what you are doing is wrong.
My view is that of the two senses of vision and hearing, vision is the stronger
one, so if you do something that is different from what the picture is doing
your brain says the sound is wrong. It doesn’t matter if you did it first
or if you are actually right, your brain says the sound is wrong so don’t
do it! We do occasionally get ourselves into the position where the pictures
are doing things that would have us jumping around all over the place, so then
we may just quietly collapse the sound into mono, with a little bit of atmosphere
around it, for a while until the difficult bit has passed and then spread it
back into stereo again. That is less disturbing than being slavishly stereo”.

What's next?

The BBC has always been at the forefront of broadcasting technology, so it’s
logical for the Head of Sound at Television Centre to be thinking of future
developments.


“The next major development is some kind of wide screen television and
five channel sound to go with it. All the proposals from SMPTE, from the EBU
and CCIR, say the future will be five channels, three front and two surround.
That will be the maximum standard. What everybody is talking about is a family
of standards where you can have from five channel right down to mono, all the
variations are possible. The transmission will carry in some coded form sufficient
information to allow you to listen in whatever format you like depending on
how you set your television or what it’s able to do. Although there’s
no argument about five channels as an acoustic idea, the real study now is how
it can be coded onto a carrier system that can be interpreted at the receivers.
A lot of people think that five channels will never be acceptable and average
Joe Public who has enough trouble getting his wife to accept two loudspeakers
for stereo is going to have a hard time with five, but I suspect it won’t
be like that. If you look at the majority of the proposals, the television receiver
will act as a centre channel anyway so you have only got two outriggers, and
if you want rear channels you will have small loudspeakers mounted on brackets
somewhere. People who want the ultimate will do that, a great many more people
would just have mono, stereo or three channel. That seems to be the way it’s
going and I’m looking forward to it. What we then have to do which is more
fascinating and a real potential headache is to develop post production mixing
techniques that will allow us to produce five channel sound which is downward
compatible in all those ways – without spending any more time or money on it!”

David Mellor

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David Mellor

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