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TV audio levels

Postby redlester » Fri Aug 31, 2018 8:37 am

While browsing through the SOS Glossary I came across the definition of LUFS, which includes a link to this article from 2014.
https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... udness-war

All fascinating stuff, and I still have my copy of Bob Katz' book on mastering, waiting to be properly read and digested one day when I have time... however I am a bit perplexed to learn all about ITU-R BS.1770 in respect to the arguments regarding loudness discrepancies between TV programme content and commercials. My flippant response would be that I could suggest what the "BS" stands for, because to this day I still have to turn the volume up and down regularly on my surround sound amplifier whenever the adverts come on (or when the trailers come on between programmes on the BBC, in fact this is sometimes even more of a problem than the commercials).

If anything, to my ears (and my wife's) the problem is worse that it ever has been. Is this simply a factor of the different dynamic range between, say, your typical Sky Atlantic drama which can feature a great deal of almost whispered dialogue but also loud music and effects, and the commercials having very little dynamic range? Is it an illusory effect, or even just that my hearing is not what it once was (I'm almost 59)? Or is my sound system simply not adjusted correctly? It's a current model Yamaha AV amplifier in 5.1 mode.

Does anyone else still suffer from this issue?
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Re: TV audio levels

Postby ef37a » Fri Aug 31, 2018 10:27 am

Yes, the levels are all over the shop as far as I can tell.

I don't have an AV system (but saw one for sale in charity shop a few days ago. "Get thee behind me!") but listen to a Curry's JVC 42" FSTV. I am seriously HOH and the JVC really does not have enough clean headroom for me. I have just turned the subtitles off on "wanted down under" as a test and if I REALLY concentrate I can get 90% of the dialogue, my wife, who is twice the distance from the telly does not have too much of a problem. The volume bar is at 20 but pushing it past that just creates more distortion.

That is a particularly good soundtrack. My wife has just flipped to QVC and that is also excellent sound (which is just as well because the skinflints won't spring for subtitles!).

Generally however the sound levels vary and things like the Horror channel are pretty useless to me. Even with my digital aid in I struggle to hear dialogue and the TV volume bar rarely seems to relate to the actual SPL delivered?

IMHO the problem has several causes.

1) Sound is balanced in optimum, quiet rooms and with superb monitors not the crap in most FSTVs
2) The programme makers make NO allowance for the above nor for the aged and hard of hearing. (naturally a block buster film is done and dusted to some extent but we all know of the "Jamaica Inn" cock up!)
3) "They" love the arty-farty washings of background music and effects. This has now even migrated from drama and "light" programmes to science and wildlife. A year ago we were give a demonstration of an owl's "silent" flight...to music!

Naturally, with a 5.1 system you will be getting dialogue dead centre and the "crashing off "not so distracting?

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Re: TV audio levels

Postby redlester » Fri Aug 31, 2018 12:22 pm

ef37a wrote:Naturally, with a 5.1 system you will be getting dialogue dead centre and the "crashing off "not so distracting?

Dave.

Can't remember what its called but my amp has a "dialogue boost" function which is supposed to make it less of a problem, but I still have to turn it up quite a lot to enable deciphering dialogue without struggle, even on Coronation Street*, let alone dramas where it is often mumbled and whispered. I give you the character of "Fred" in the Handsmaid's Tale. I don't think he's spoken a line in the entire two series that wasn't only slightly above a whisper!

Setting a level for the above ineviatbly means having to turn down as soon as there is a break in the programme. I don't see this ever being solved to be honest.

(*before anyone say's it, I did grow up in the north west so it's not the dialect!)
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Re: TV audio levels

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Aug 31, 2018 12:59 pm

redlester wrote:My flippant response would be that I could suggest what the "BS" stands for...

And you wouldn't be the first! :lol:

...I still have to turn the volume up and down regularly on my surround sound amplifier whenever the adverts come on (or when the trailers come on between programmes on the BBC, in fact this is sometimes even more of a problem than the commercials).

ITU-R BS.1770 is still a work in progress -- that's why we are currently on version 4 -- and more updates will undoubtedly follow as experience and feedback is gained, and as the world's programme makers gradually get on board (or their various tricks are outlawed).

Since the original introduction of BS.1770, the way of measuring loudness for 'short form' or 'interstitial' programmes -- meaning trailers and ads -- has changed substantially, but these new regulations haven't been encoded into all the international variants yet (although they should be in place for all UK HD* programming. I think the new short-form rules make things a lot better than it was, but -- I absolutely agree with you -- it's still not perfect.

*BS.1770 only applies to programmes broadcast on HD channels. It doesn't apply to SD channels which mostly still use the legacy standards policies which are based on peak level, not loudness. This may well change over time as programme production is increasingly based on loudness normalisation....

There is a separate policy document for short-form programmes (see link below), but basically it keeps the integrated loudness target level at -23LUFS, but adds a second limit condition to ensure the maximum short-term loudness level doesn't exceed -18LUFS. This is intended to prevent ad-makers from having loud attention-grabbing peaks... but there is talk that this short-term max level may itself be further reduced in future updates, or an additional restriction placed on the momentary loudness value.

https://tech.ebu.ch/docs/r/r128s1.pdf

Is this simply a factor of the different dynamic range between, say, your typical Sky Atlantic drama which can feature a great deal of almost whispered dialogue but also loud music and effects, and the commercials having very little dynamic range?

Well, that's not going to help... but the whole idea of loudness normalisation and BS.1770 is to make it all sound roughly the same loudness... and clearly it still hasn't quite hit that mark yet. But also do beware of watching SD channels which do not currently fall under loudness normalisation rules...

Does anyone else still suffer from this issue?

It is certainly still widely talked about in professional circles (programme makers and broadcast chiefs), as well as amongst the viewing public, and the development work continues behind the scenes.

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Re: TV audio levels

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Aug 31, 2018 3:39 pm

ef37a wrote:...the TV volume bar rarely seems to relate to the actual SPL delivered?

Very common. I presume it's because the amp/speakers are relatively limited in the power capability. I noticed that with my own Panasonic flatscreen TV, the volume doesn't seem to change much once beyond the half-way mark.

1) Sound is balanced in optimum, quiet rooms and with superb monitors not the crap in most FSTVs

In my day sound balancers (live and post) were encouraged to make regular checks on grot-boxes or domestic TVs specifically to check how the mix would translate, and recorded programmes were tech-reviewed before transmission to check this aspect as well. However, from talking to those currently in the business it seems this is no longer a standard procedure. To be fair, though, I don't think this is a major aspect of the problem -- experienced balancers have a good idea of what they are doing and what will and won't work on a domestic TV. They have all watched and listened to their own programmes off-air over many years and have learned from what they heard! Worryingly, I hear many more tales these days of how their professional advice is often over-ruled by aspiring directors/producers...

2) The programme makers make NO allowance for the above nor for the aged and hard of hearing.

This is certainly a part of the problem, but again the main UK broadcasters are all involved in a working party that is continually trying to identify and tackle this issue. So the issue is known and heads of production are made aware and should pay attention to this as a serious issue...

...we all know of the "Jamaica Inn" cock up!

The Jamaica Inn problem (and a few others subsequently) was not a technical issue. It was a fundamentally an acting issue, but compounded by bad direction/production control. The inaudible speech was identified during the shoot, but the sound recordist was overruled (see above!)

3) "They" love the arty-farty washings of background music and effects.

They do... and so do I, mostly. Arty-farty washings of music, when done well, can really lift a programme to great heights of emotional involvement, and that's generally a good thing in my view. However, it is also widely recognised within the industry that it does make following dialogue harder for those with impaired hearing... so a balance has to be struck between not making it impossible for the HOH, but also maintaining the artistic intent for 'normal' listeners. And of course, sometimes the music is poor and gets in the way, or the balance isn't as good as it should be... And let's not get on to the dumbing down of science and nature programming...

Naturally, with a 5.1 system you will be getting dialogue dead centre...

Not always! With feature films you can be pretty sure that most if not all of the dialogue will be exclusively in the centre channel, so the gain of that channel can be boosted at home if that helps a HOH listener. With TV programmes it's much more variable. Some do put the dialogue exclusively in the centre channel, but some also bleed some into the left-right channels, and some will only use a phantom image from left-right, with no centre dialogue at all. Personally, when I was mixing TV programmes I much preferred the sound of a phantom centre, and rarely placed dialogue exclusively in the centre channel.

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