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Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Ariosto » Sun Nov 17, 2019 3:09 pm

Brian M Rose wrote:
Hugh Robjohns wrote:And I've lost count of the number of times location sound recordists have told me they've raised an issue on set about inaudible dialogue and been overruled. And in a freelance industry there's a limit to how far you can push the point if you want to work tomorrow...

Quite! Time was when it was not only valid, but a requirement of BBC Film Dept to put "SUP" (Shot Under Protest) on the clapper board. Even as a freelance cameraman working for the Beeb I was expected to do this. But back then, the very idea of not having a proper sound crew was unthinkable.
At least working in radio (even if it's local hospital/community radio) you have to get the sound absolutely right.
And yes, those very expensive flat screen televisions. The built-in sound is often indeed quite useless - just bought a Panasonic sound bar to prove the point....

I often have the TV sound routed to a good amplifier and then to two 4 foot high speakers, or sometimes to headphones. Amazingly different to the rubbish that comes through the TV speakers!

I've worked as the sound person on some amateur movies in the past, and have complained on outside sequences that the dialogue was not good, and not at all clear, to be told that we can fix it in post. But it never happened, so I gave up on that game. When I once directed my own video, I made sure the dialogue was crystal clear, and the sound effects and music (all supplied by myself and my wife) did not intrude on the dialogue. In the editing stage, the very good cameraman picked a different take to my preference, and when I asked why he said the colour balance was slightly off in the one I wanted. I had to point out that the acting was slightly off in his version, and in mine the acting was much better. I know which one I wanted. Strange he didn't understand that the acting is much more important, as he had a daughter who was a well known professional actress !
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Dan LB » Sun Nov 17, 2019 9:32 pm

Tomás Mulcahy wrote:Hi Dan, great to hear from someone on the production! And I'm relieved to hear that I'm not the only one hearing it. And super relieved to see that it's been taken seriously. I know a live broadcast can't be perfect, but I strongly believe that adding phasing or reverb to dialogue makes the audience (subconsciusly) switch off because the brain has to work harder to extract the signal.

100% agree with you on all of this. I do take my job very seriously, as do my colleagues, and despite a lot of negative attitudes towards RTE, we're not all lazy, carefree and incompetent.

Phasing from the PA has been there for years as well, particularly when audience is faded up at the end of a musical performance.

Absolutely, and I do hope if/when we replace the PA at some stage things will get better. The current system is 30 years old and not fit for purpose. Not trying to make excuses, but most of us try our absolute best within the time, technical and budget constraints.

What are the audience mics?


This is most likely the biggest problem I feel. Currently the audience mics consist of an XY pair of AKG C451s supplemented by Sennheiser MKH416s and some very cheap Thomann shotguns!! :headbang:
I will talk to the powers-that-be about changing the way we do this.

The BBC way is to use fig 8s overhead with the PA in the null. Works really well, as you'd expect from the Beeb.

Sounds like an excellent plan! :thumbup:

Maybe the PA is getting on open lavs?

It is to a degree yes, and I hope a new PA system will help matters somewhat in this regard.

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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby James Perrett » Sun Nov 17, 2019 10:00 pm

I wonder if these sound complaints are starting to be noticed by the right people? I've just watched the new David Attenborough documentary on BBC1 and the narration is much clearer compared to the previous series where the music and effects were overpowering.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Tomás Mulcahy » Sun Nov 17, 2019 10:15 pm

OMG Dan LB it's so good to read your response!! This is great. We can all understand where RTE's reputation came from- the lack of funding over the years has negatively impacted morale I think- but there are so many productions down through the years that have been world class. "Hands" was one that always impressed me and more recently Love/Hate is a classic. There are many more. The Late Late has exemplified Irish culture and the many positve social and political changes. Long may it last.

Maybe Hugh could chime in about the PA issue. I'd imagine when BBC came up with the fig 8 thing, they were using contemporary omni-ish PA stacks? So a newer system might not be necessary? Although I would think a line array would improve things? I'd suggest broadband absorbers where the fig 8s are pointing would help as well, although deployed carefully so as not to damage the room ambience.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby MOF » Tue Nov 19, 2019 7:56 pm

I'd suggest broadband absorbers where the fig 8s are pointing would help as well, although deployed carefully so as not to damage the room ambience.

TVC studios were very dead acoustically and the audience was up against those 'dead' walls so I don't think ambience was ever a problem.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Nov 19, 2019 8:35 pm

Tomás Mulcahy wrote:Maybe Hugh could chime in about the PA issue. I'd imagine when BBC came up with the fig 8 thing, they were using contemporary omni-ish PA stacks?

No, the original arrangement used column speakers -- basic line-arrays with limited bandwidth and controlled dispersion, primarily intended for speech reproduction, of course.

However, most studio installations now use more contemporary and familiar standard PA systems, and fig-8s are rarely used for audience mics. Suspended omnis or cardioids are more common these days.

I'd suggest broadband absorbers where the fig 8s are pointing would help as well, although deployed carefully so as not to damage the room ambience.

As MOF says, standard BBC TV studios have always had a very well-controlled reverb time -- the walls and ceiling are generally covered with absorber panels (both broadband and bass traps) -- those two-foot square boxes with wire mesh on the front seen so frequently on bare-studio shows like the Old Grey Whistle Test.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Nov 19, 2019 8:43 pm

James Perrett wrote:I wonder if these sound complaints are starting to be noticed by the right people? I've just watched the new David Attenborough documentary on BBC1 and the narration is much clearer compared to the previous series where the music and effects were overpowering.

Yes, people are listening and there are ongoing efforts to improve things. I know there are a couple of quite active groups -- one representing the viewers/listeners and another the broadcast sound professionals -- that are involved in continuing discussions with the BBC and the other broadcasters (as well as the manufacturers through their own representation bodies) to try and address this problem through better understanding of the issues, more appropriate production and post-production techniques and processes, better direction, better acting, and so on, as well as better technology and design of TVs etc.

There are still challenges... And mistakes... But people really are trying!
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby N i g e l » Wed Nov 20, 2019 3:25 am

CS70 wrote:I just listened to the YT video on Ah-ah at my studio and didn't find anything really objectionable with the sound

I watched that on my laptop, no problems on tiny (B&O) speakers or headphones.
[I do also like the A1 version of Take on Me :D ]

The BBC have famously had complaints in the past about "mumbling"

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-39038406

The only time I wrote in to complain was about a WWII documentary.
Bloke was stood on Blackpool beach watching a spitfire fly past "just listen to that engine!!!!!!!"
It was all a bit lost in the orchestral incidental background music.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby The Red Bladder » Wed Nov 20, 2019 11:49 am

I am possibly the only berk here who has worked in television back in the 60s, so with that in mind may I point to Hugh's statements here -
Hugh Robjohns wrote:I think there a lots of factors in this... The terrible sound quality of the built-in (and usually rear-facing) speakers of most flat-screen tellies certainly doesn't help.

And neither does the fact that most young TV directors seem to think they're aspiring Hollywood directors and approach their film-making with the wrong mindset completely.

And its made worse by the very nature of independent programme making, which often means post-production in film-style dubbing theatres with big screens and surround sound.

And then there's the training... Back in my day, the BBC effectively trained the entire UK industry. It doesn't anymore and hasn't for a long time. It's entirely reliant on universities and specialist colleges, and while a couple are good, I perceive a bias in expectations towards the film industry rather than TV.
Those are the reasons all gathered together in a nutshell (but missing a couple of important additional reasons).

1. Back in the 60 and through to the 90s, we were working through a fog of poor equipment (compared to modern digital) and very constrained budgets. The studio I worked at in the 60s had three cameras which had to do everything for two large and very busy studios. You had two camera shots, medium and close-up, as anything wde would leave viewers confused as to what was going on. With just 405 lines of black-and-white, you can't have loads of wide shots to tell a story. That meant that mics could be close to the actor and actors had to speak clearly.

2. Stories in dramas were driven by dialog, so words were important. Early TV was really just radio with pictures - you could turn the image off and still follow the story. Everything was verbal. Visual gags and cues were few and far between. Again, that meant clear enunciation of words - no mumbling!

3. Actors came to television from the stage and that meant declaring every word. The struggle to fight through the fog of 405 lines and poor audio was very similar to projecting to the gods in a theatre. Also EVERY actor had to study Shakespeare and the ham-acting of over-declaration of texts was very much 'en vogue'. Every Charlie on the boards thought they were Sir Laurence Olivier on the boards at the Old Vic. Today, they all think they must mumble like Dustin Hoffman!

4. The Sennheiser MKH416 only became widely adopted in the 80s and the latest version of that mic (now the absolute soundstage standard) is simply stunningly clear - so much so, that I am now often using it for music recording. Until then, we had all sorts of mics, none of which were all that good! Actors had to speak-up!

5. Modern speech is slurred. Even junior royals and the prime minister speak with semi-working-class accents that swallow syllables. This is just the way people pronounce their words and we have to live with it! A very stilted and over-clear pronunciation developed during the Victorian age and this evolved into 'The King's English' or 'Received Pronunciation' and more commonly 'BBC English' and unless you listen to the Queen or some member of the so-called upper classes of that vintage, you will not hear that anywhere.

6. Modern scripts are often poorly written by people with an incomplete command of the English language. A modern script is very likely to have grammatical mistakes and typical slurred idioms already written into it. For example, Maggie Smith's character in Downton Abby spoke the words "Then I must have said it wrong!" That is both a massive grammatical mistake and a Cockney idiom and certainly not the language of a 'dowager countess from the Edwardian era! (There were similar howlers in the BBC's 3rd-rate adaptation of 'War of the Worlds' last Sunday!)

7. As Hugh so rightly points out - every director wants to be Sam Mendes and every cameraman thinks they are Roger Deakins. (BTW - watch out for Mendes' and Deakins' new movie '1917' coming in December - I've seen some of the 'rushes' and if it lives up to that which I have seen so far, it is going to change the way movies are made and what we expect from an action movie!)

8. Add to that, broadcasters are viewing the final product on either very large 4K monitors and with 5.1 sound systems, or even in a proper viewing theatre - hardly the pokey little set-up most people have in the UK TV market in their living rooms and bedrooms!
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Ariosto » Wed Nov 20, 2019 1:10 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:I am possibly the only berk here who has worked in television back in the 60s, so with that in mind may I point to Hugh's statements here -
Hugh Robjohns wrote:I think there a lots of factors in this... The terrible sound quality of the built-in (and usually rear-facing) speakers of most flat-screen tellies certainly doesn't help.

And neither does the fact that most young TV directors seem to think they're aspiring Hollywood directors and approach their film-making with the wrong mindset completely.

And its made worse by the very nature of independent programme making, which often means post-production in film-style dubbing theatres with big screens and surround sound.

And then there's the training... Back in my day, the BBC effectively trained the entire UK industry. It doesn't anymore and hasn't for a long time. It's entirely reliant on universities and specialist colleges, and while a couple are good, I perceive a bias in expectations towards the film industry rather than TV.
Those are the reasons all gathered together in a nutshell (but missing a couple of important additional reasons).

1. Back in the 60 and through to the 90s, we were working through a fog of poor equipment (compared to modern digital) and very constrained budgets. The studio I worked at in the 60s had three cameras which had to do everything for two large and very busy studios. You had two camera shots, medium and close-up, as anything wde would leave viewers confused as to what was going on. With just 405 lines of black-and-white, you can't have loads of wide shots to tell a story. That meant that mics could be close to the actor and actors had to speak clearly.

2. Stories in dramas were driven by dialog, so words were important. Early TV was really just radio with pictures - you could turn the image off and still follow the story. Everything was verbal. Visual gags and cues were few and far between. Again, that meant clear enunciation of words - no mumbling!

3. Actors came to television from the stage and that meant declaring every word. The struggle to fight through the fog of 405 lines and poor audio was very similar to projecting to the gods in a theatre. Also EVERY actor had to study Shakespeare and the ham-acting of over-declaration of texts was very much 'en vogue'. Every Charlie on the boards thought they were Sir Laurence Olivier on the boards at the Old Vic. Today, they all think they must mumble like Dustin Hoffman!

4. The Sennheiser MKH416 only became widely adopted in the 80s and the latest version of that mic (now the absolute soundstage standard) is simply stunningly clear - so much so, that I am now often using it for music recording. Until then, we had all sorts of mics, none of which were all that good! Actors had to speak-up!

5. Modern speech is slurred. Even junior royals and the prime minister speak with semi-working-class accents that swallow syllables. This is just the way people pronounce their words and we have to live with it! A very stilted and over-clear pronunciation developed during the Victorian age and this evolved into 'The King's English' or 'Received Pronunciation' and more commonly 'BBC English' and unless you listen to the Queen or some member of the so-called upper classes of that vintage, you will not hear that anywhere.

6. Modern scripts are often poorly written by people with an incomplete command of the English language. A modern script is very likely to have grammatical mistakes and typical slurred idioms already written into it. For example, Maggie Smith's character in Downton Abby spoke the words "Then I must have said it wrong!" That is both a massive grammatical mistake and a Cockney idiom and certainly not the language of a 'dowager countess from the Edwardian era! (There were similar howlers in the BBC's 3rd-rate adaptation of 'War of the Worlds' last Sunday!)

7. As Hugh so rightly points out - every director wants to be Sam Mendes and every cameraman thinks they are Roger Deakins. (BTW - watch out for Mendes' and Deakins' new movie '1917' coming in December - I've seen some of the 'rushes' and if it lives up to that which I have seen so far, it is going to change the way movies are made and what we expect from an action movie!)

8. Add to that, broadcasters are viewing the final product on either very large 4K monitors and with 5.1 sound systems, or even in a proper viewing theatre - hardly the pokey little set-up most people have in the UK TV market in their living rooms and bedrooms!

Yes, yes and yes again! This is an excellent post that says it all, along with Hugh's great contributions.

In many ways we would be better off going back to concept that the picture is not worth a thousand words, and the words and music are extremely important, as is the writing. Most scripts these days can't even compete as toilet paper!
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Nov 20, 2019 1:24 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:Add to that, broadcasters are viewing the final product on either very large 4K monitors and with 5.1 sound systems, or even in a proper viewing theatre - hardly the pokey little set-up most people have in the UK TV market in their living rooms and bedrooms!

:-) Back in the 80s when I was a the forefront of broadcasting, When I finished editing a programme it had a 'tech review' which meant watching it critically -- usually with the director sat beside me -- on a 'Grade 1' CRT television (625 lines -- I'm not as old as Andrew! ;-) ) while listening on a 'Grade 1' speaker (usually an LS5/8) in a room with decent acoustics and lighting. Top quality for the day...

At the same we recorded the programme onto VHS and that tape was then taken up to the Producer who watched it on a standard domestic TV either in his office or at home before signing the programme off as fit for transmission. ... And the producer had probably never seen the script, either...

As Andrew says, that kind of independent 'domestic viewing' check is rarely performed these days, and a lot of shows -- especially the bigger budget stuff -- is signed off by production staff watching it in a professional viewing room with very high quality projection and powerful surround sound. Dark scenes, dynamic sound tracks, and mumbled dialogue are easily accepted in such environments, but render programmes unwatchable to the average viewer at home...
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby The Red Bladder » Wed Nov 20, 2019 2:11 pm

VHS and 625-line television? Sheer luxury!

At Granada (up to about 1967 or 8) we just had B&W cameras that had four lenses on a turret and the ones in Studios 1 & 2 couldn't be synced. Reel-to-reel videotape and a five-second gap between camera shots, so the tape had to have a magnetic liquid put on the gaps to see where the black-burst came and the editor had to cut into that and stick the bits together.

The outdoor Coronation Street set was at two-thirds real size (so the actors had to always stand away from the buildings) and the indoor stuff was all in one small studio. Studio One - about 200 sq m. The outdoor set was recorded on the one and only OB truck - that could be synced, as could the newsroom upstairs.

Colour was coming and so no money was spent on old B&W 405 stuff. Everything was cash-strapped and the OB truck was just a cardboard box in a hole in the ground. In fact, the cameras were so bad that the role of Ena Sharples was played by a whippet.

And the editing suite? Well, I say editing suite - until we got colour, we had to edit all our programmes on a sewing machine.

Microphones? Luxury! We used to dream of having real microphones! All we got was some bits of string, a couple of matchboxes and a hearing-aid valve! And if we could not make that work, the floor manager of Studio Two used to beat us to death.

But we were happy!

But when you tell that to engineers today, they just laugh in your face and drive you over in their sports cars!
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Wonks » Wed Nov 20, 2019 2:21 pm

The Red Bladder wrote: (BTW - watch out for Mendes' and Deakins' new movie '1917' coming in December - I've seen some of the 'rushes' and if it lives up to that which I have seen so far, it is going to change the way movies are made and what we expect from an action movie!)

So definitely over the top then! :D
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby The Red Bladder » Thu Nov 21, 2019 1:39 pm

Wonks wrote:So definitely over the top then! :D
In every sense of that expression - one of the lighting rigs (there were many) had 500kW of HMI lights in one array. Several were placed at intervals to reproduce the effect of a village on fire. Most of the movie is one continuous shot, filmed on a brand new large-frame camera developed by Arri.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqNYrYUiMfg

You get a short glimpse of one of the arrays here at 1:35 and 2:15

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hSjs2hBa94
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Wonks » Thu Nov 21, 2019 2:05 pm

Looks totally unconvincing. Won't be seeing it.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby The Red Bladder » Sun Nov 24, 2019 5:17 pm

Wonks wrote:Looks totally unconvincing. Won't be seeing it.
This is from someone who has just seen the film yesterday at a Directors' Guild of America special event in NY -

"Just saw 1917 and want to encourage all who might read this as strongly as possible to go see this film on the largest screen possible. Beyond astonishing on all levels. Total immersion.

The only other time I experienced this level of immersion within a movie was the long 'mental institution' shot in Werkmeister Harmonies, but that analogy is rough and doesn't really begin to compare to what happens onscreen in 1917."
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby baward » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:37 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:Add to that, broadcasters are viewing the final product on either very large 4K monitors and with 5.1 sound systems, or even in a proper viewing theatre - hardly the pokey little set-up most people have in the UK TV market in their living rooms and bedrooms!

Bring back the Auratone! (oh, they did...)

I look forward to the day when you can mix your own sound (which it seems is not that far off. In general, I would be happiest with just the dialogue tracks(s).
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Nov 24, 2019 10:52 pm

baward wrote:I look forward to the day when you can mix your own sound (which it seems is not that far off. In general, I would be happiest with just the dialogue tracks(s).

I wish they did the sensible thing and restricted the centre speaker to dialogue and, maybe, the odd SFX, then we could balance the dialogue ourselves with a suitable decoder. I had hoped that might be the case but, having asked the question on here, the consensus is that the centre speaker does not isolate dialogue with any consistency so I haven't bothered yet.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby The Red Bladder » Mon Nov 25, 2019 11:44 am

Centre speaker - this is where usually dialogue is lurking, the trouble is, most TV sounds systems do not have separate volume controls for the channels.

But we have a pukka viewing room here at Bladder Towers 2.5m screen, Genelec 7.1 surround and 24:10 mixing desk and I always (so far) have left the audio flat for all channels - no EQ, all eight or six channels at the same volume - and no problems with understanding dialogue whatsoever.

HOWEVER, there is a fundamental movie v. TV audio philosophy problem that Hugh touched upon. In a movie, the dialogue is of less importance than in a TV show. I would almost state that in an action movie, the dialogue is just another set of noises that belong to the overall sound design and the viewer should be able to follow the action without even knowing what is being said. A good script should push the story forward through acts and action and not words.

Conversely, a bad script is filled with much flapping at the lip, trying (and often failing) to explain to the audience what the hell is going on! The occasional plot-twist can be spoken ("Luke, I am your father!") and of course zippy one-liners to amuse the audience ("Go ahead, make my day!") are a must-have. Every good action movie has a string of ironic one-liners that make you sit up and take notice.

TV is still largely just radio with pictures, especially in the UK where TV sets are quite small and shows are dialogue-driven. A made-for-TV movie is being pulled between two stools. On the one side, there is the need to punch through the family living room banter, the small TV set with crappy audio and the need to explain several times to the audience what is going on. On the other side, it's a movie. It is trying to be big. It is mixed in 5.1 or 7.1 or even Atmos/DTS-X and the TV-mix is a fold-down from that.

Most importantly, in a movie, the dialogue comes from a different set of speakers and from a different direction. When folded down for TV, it comes from the same crappy little rear-facing speakers everything else comes from. If the dialogue is kept at the same volume as the score and overall sound design, it can get swamped on a small TV set. If it is made louder and/or sharper, it spoils the quality of the film.

And behind all this is an overriding HUGE difference in attitude between those who make movies and those who make TV. Each movie tries to be a work of art. It is a one-off, a unique experience that must stand alone. Making a movie is similar to going into battle: a year or two of planning, months of preparation and a couple of months of fierce action, followed by mopping-up and cleaning. Right at the end comes the assessment - did we succeed?

TV is a 9-to-5. Monday read-through, Tuesday and Wednesday walk-through, Thursday rehearsals, Friday taping. Rinse-repeat - Monday read-through . . . Retire at 65 and then wait for death.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon Nov 25, 2019 11:50 am

So if that's the case why can't I hear the feckin' dialogue over the background nonsense :headbang:
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