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5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

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5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Red Bladder » Mon May 20, 2019 3:16 pm

A couple of weeks ago I slapped on a concert DVD in our post-prod room and switched to the 5.1 option on the menu. This is a treated room with a Genelec system. Something sounded 'wrong' and so I pulled up the individual channels and got a shock. It may say 5.1 on the tin and you may have thought that you are paying for a 5.1 mix - but it was not a 5.1 mix.

So last week I took 16 DVDs and BluRay disks from our collection of live concerts and discovered that four of them are not 5.1 at all (despite being clearly labelled as 5.1) and three have disastrous menu faults that can make them unwatchable.

The equipment used was a good-quality Sony BluRay player with discrete 5.1 audio outputs feeding a Soundcraft 24:10 'Delta' mixer. Speakers were Genelec 1029a with twin subs. Viewing was on an 'Optima' projector and a Panasonic 4K monitor.

Surround sound dates back to Disney's 'Fantasia' and almost every modern movie on DVD or BluRay is released as a 5.1 or 7.1 mix. I have never found a movie with a menu fault that made it unwatchable - the authoring studios never get the aspect ratios wrong, you can always find the 'setup' options and pick the sound format you want and they never default to anything weird.

The sound design on nearly all modern movies is impeccable and some are simply breathtakingly good. The surround mix on Bladerunner 2049 stands out in a field where excellence seems to dominate!

Of the 16 DVDs and BluRays I pulled from a large collection, ten were real 5.1 and were really good mixes above and beyond that. Honourable mentions must go to the folks who mixed Shakira (Oral Fixation), Stones (Live at the Max), Deep Purple (Live in Verona), Tom Petty (Running down a Dream) and the best of the 16 was Tom Petty (Last DJ) - OK, just my opinion, but those mixes stood out!

Sadly, very few classical concerts seem to be available on DVD or BluRay via the usual retail outlets. I know they are out there, but if you don't want to have the usual light-classical MOR mush, the choice is tiny and the prices are sky-high. I find this sad, as large classical concerts benefit greatly from having a more immersive sound. After all, MPEG-H is coming whether audio engineers want it or not.

https://www.mpegh.com/en/home/

But back to those disks that stated 5.1 on the tin, but were something else.

Leonard Cohen 'Live in Dublin'. The centre channel is completely silent (always a giveaway sign of an up-mix!) and the side channels are just a bit of reverb and audience noises that may have been dubbed in afterwards.

Scissor Sisters 'Live in Brighton'. Again, no centre channel and the mix is very bass-light. The centre channel just has some audience noises and the audience is on the side channels. The menu is the triumph of arty-farty design and moving images over functionality and common sense!

Roxy Music 'Live at the Apollo'. Again, the audience has been added to the side channels, but the centre channel is additional bass, kick and snare that must have been dubbed in afterwards as there is absolutely no bleed from the foldback. There is zero difference between the stereo mix option and the L&R channels on the 5.1. But if you are in a Roxy tribute band, this is the DVD to get, as that D&B track will give you an instant and perfect D&B for every one of their major hits!

The worst of the lot was Pink Floyd 'Pulse' as it combines three deadly mistakes (IMO). The centre channel is just some atmos-mush, the side channels are synthy sounds, plus audience sounds and some reverb. So OK, you can watch it in stereo - well, not really. The picture is 4:3 and it is not black-bared at the side, but just 4:3. If your monitor, TV set or projector does not have a 4:3 option, the image is just stretched sideways. This is compounded by a dreadful image quality that can only be described as below standard definition.

The other disks that had technical faults were Beyonce 'Experience' that seems to have been recorded or authored in some aspect ratio that is slightly wider than 16:9 but was then squashed - and nobody noticed!

Rammstein's 'Live in Berlin' has impeccable sound, but the menu is a disaster - it goes straight into play without showing any menu and if you do manage to get to the menu, you can choose between the right aspect ratio or the right sound option - but you do not seem to be able to get both at once!

So out of 16 DVDs and BR disks of live concerts that I picked at random, six were faulty by design and about as many were superb.

Some of these are historically important recordings. So it seems a pity that the memory of Leonard Cohen is tainted by a ham-fisted up-mix and the video of Pink Floyd's greatest concert is at bad-VHS quality with a botched up-mix.

If I click the 'Buy it Now!' button for a movie, I nearly always get a superb product. Not one of the countless BR and DVD films I own has a botched menu, the wrong aspect ratio or looks as if it was recorded to an old VHS tape that someone found under the bed. And all the films that are in 5.1 are actually IN 5.1 - and not stereo with some noises added!

A special mention must go to the Rolling Stones. 'Live at the Max' was recorded in 1990 - and it's in Hi-Def. Back then the industry was buzzing about hi-def and Sony was building prototypes and needed projects to showcase this new technology. Eight Imax cameras were used and they kept breaking down so often that hardly ever were all eight working at once! Yet despite all those technical difficulties, the result is perfect HD video and a perfect 5.1 mix.

Over the next few decades, the Stones have produced many DVDs and BR disks and every recording and video is beautifully crafted, the audio honours going to 'The Remote Recording Network' and their MD Peter Brandt. It can be done.

In today's world, an off-the-desk recording with a few audience mics added is easier than ever and I very much doubt that the fault for the abysmal results produced by a few are the fault of any professional recording or video personnel. After all, not one film has any of these mistakes - at least none that I could find!

Far more likely, someone decided to save a bit of money and in doing so, spoilt the end product.
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon May 20, 2019 4:07 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:...MPEG-H is coming whether audio engineers want it or not.

It's a clever system, and it removes the Dolby stranglehold on immersive sound technology for the consumer, but it's not going to revolutionise 'surround sound' production. It's just another reasonably agnostic delivery medium with some nice bells and whistles that few will probably ever use.

Leonard Cohen 'Live in Dublin'. The centre channel is completely silent (always a giveaway sign of an up-mix!) and the side channels are just a bit of reverb and audience noises that may have been dubbed in afterwards.

Sounds ideal to me! All I want to hear from the side/rear channels is some genuine hall ambience and the sync crowd noises. I don't want the electric piano over my left shoulder, the backing singers over my right, and the lead guitar whizzing around my head! If I can see it on the screen, it should be coming from the front speakers. End of! :D

As for the centre channel. I don't think it serves any useful purpose in a domestic environment (cinema is quite different, of course). In fact I find its use often creates an unpleasantly unnatural effect on dialogue and singing voices -- the speaker/singer in a box effect. Personally, I much prefer the sound of a phantom centre, and regularly turn the centre channel off on my own systems at home.

Moreover, not using the centre channel exclusively -- such as for the lead vocals -- is often a requirement of the artists or their management specifically to avoid exposing the vocals or making it easy to rip them (as they could be if exclusively in the centre). More importantly for me, as someone who has mixed in 5.1 professionally, the delicate mix balance between vocals and everything else can't be completely knackered by someone at home with a badly set up home-theatre system where the centre channel is too loud or quiet.

Personally, I'm all in favour of 4.0 for domestic music consumption. Works pretty well... and I know a lot of professional music balancers who share the same view! Sadly, commercial pressures often mean that something has to be put into the centre and LFE channels, if only to make the meters move on consumer equipment, but whatever they do
to comply, it's rarely clean vocals in the centre...

Scissor Sisters 'Live in Brighton'. Again, no centre channel and the mix is very bass-light.

Lots of potential reasons for being bass light, but a common one is that the music was mixed on a film-based 5.1 system, and all the kick and bass were put into the LFE channel by a mixing muppet! :lol:

The film spec calls for a +10dB boost in level for the LFE track on replay, but that boost is not used for standard music replay systems. So it might have sounded great in the mix room, but a bit weedy on a correctly set up home music system. The reverse is also possible for music mixes plated back on a film-aligned system, of course, with loadsabass!

Of course, there really shouldn't be anything in the LFE channel at all for a straight music mix. The LFE channel was only ever intended for exceptional bass effects like exploding volcanoes. There's no need to put the kick drums and bass guitars there at all because all five of the main channels are flat to 5Hz anyway, and the bass from the main channels gets routed to the subwoofer (through bass management in the amplifier box) if the consumer has small satellite speakers. And again, if the consumer system is badly set up, the LFE contribution level could easily be wildly off and so mess up the low-end balance.

The menu is the triumph of arty-farty design and moving images over functionality and common sense!

I find that applies to a great deal of film BRs/DVDs, too... :-(

Rammstein's 'Live in Berlin' has impeccable sound, but the menu is a disaster - it goes straight into play without showing any menu...

Ah... bliss... I wish they all did that! ;-) I totally abhor the five minutes of faffery with pointless animations before I get to see and activate the Play option!

And all the films that are in 5.1 are actually IN 5.1 - and not stereo with some noises added!

;) I get the point you're making, but the soundtracks of the films on DVD/BR are copied directly from the filmic release where a discrete centre channel for dialogue is essential in a large-screen cinema, where placed off-screen sound effects are increasingly used for dramatic effect, and where the sound production budget was enormous.

Surround music for concerts is, generally, a very different kettle of audio, usually with bugger-all budget. In both my professional and casual research into this subject over many years now, I've found that the very small number of consumers who actually have a surround set up and watch music shows just want all the noises from what they see on screen (on stage) to come from the front speakers in conventional stereo, with hall ambience and crowds around the back and sides to give a sense of envelopment and a feeling of 'I was almost there'.

Balance, video quality, and menu issues aside, it sounds like the vast majority of your discs do achieve that.

I have my DVD player connected through a console and find that on music discs I frequently have to adjust the centre, LFE, and rear channel balances to achieve an acceptable effect -- far more so than with films. So I'd agree that there is a consistency problem...

Far more likely, someone decided to save a bit of money and in doing so, spoilt the end product.

T'was always thus! ;)
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Elf » Mon May 20, 2019 4:53 pm

I like to bleed a little of something of the front-centre elements into the Centre channel, to help the feeling of a 'front' to the mix, but it shouldn't be utilised as a 'main' signal channel IMO.

You'd be amazed (or maybe not) at how often I've been asked to provide a 5.1 'mix' of a stereo master. You explain, then you do what you have to do...
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Red Bladder » Mon May 20, 2019 5:18 pm

Sounds ideal to me! All I want to hear from the side/rear channels is some genuine hall ambience and the sync crowd noises. I don't want the electric piano coming over my left shoulder, the backing singers over my right, and the lead guitar whizzing around my head!
Neither does anyone else. The point I am making is that it is an up-mix and not a 5.1 recording.
not using the centre channel is often a requirement of the artists or management because then the vocals aren't exposed and can't be ripped off (as they could be if exclusively in the centre).
Tom Petty, Shakira, Stones, Deep Purple, Brian Ferry (Live in Lyon) Scissor-Sisters (Live at the O2) Rammstein (Live in NY) Chic (Montreaux) Pink (all disks) Beyonce - Vocals, kick, snare and bass-top in the centre.

The vocals are not on their own and are also partially in the L&R channels and of course the PA reverb - so ripping not easily possible.

Those DVD/BR disks I site as being not real surround give themselves away by not sounding 'right'. I know they are up-mixed bodge-jobs because that's what they sound like! I too have the up-mix options on things like the Lexicon 960L and so I recognised that unpleasant sound straight away!

The funny thing is, if you listen to those bodged up-mixes on a crap system (soundbar or in a small room with Mickey-Mouse speakers - that sort of thing) they sort of sound OK. Not great, but sort of passable. It's when one listens to them properly, that the sound falls apart!

most consumers want all the noises from what they see on screen (on stage) to come from the front speakers in conventional stereo, with hall ambience and crowds around the back and sides to give a sense of envelopment and a feeling of 'I was almost there'.

And that would be right. But that's not what they are getting - (according to my straw-poll of 16 disks) with one-disk-in-four, they are being given an up-mix, with added noises SL and SR.

I mentioned The Stones and there, recording engineer Peter Brandt uses up to 16 audience mics (sometimes even more!) for a really immersive feel to the sound. Dubbed audience noise does not make it surround!

Scissor-Sisters bass-light mix. LFE +10dB - hmm, poss. but I doubt it.

Here's a tip for anybody wanting to mix ANYTHING - assuming that your system is all nicely calibrated and set up correctly, listen to something in the same genre that is superbly mixed and try to make whatever it is that you are working on sound like that.

And if you are authoring a BR or DVD, try the damn thing out on several players. The cheaper and nastier, the better! And never assume that the punter has some state-of-the-art TV set with adjustable aspect ratios for odd rubbish like 14:9 or 18:9. Assume they've got a 16:9 TV set and a £25 DVD player hooked up to those micro-speakers and a sub that you can get for £50 - and nothing else!

LFE and bass management - here's a full run-down of everything you ever wanted to know about LFE and bass management for DVD and BluRays but were too afraid to ask!

https://www.avsforum.com/forum/91-audio ... ained.html

The Elf wrote:You explain, then you do what you have to do...

That's the problem right there!
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Elf » Mon May 20, 2019 5:40 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:
The Elf wrote:You explain, then you do what you have to do...
That's the problem right there!
True enough. If it's not me it's the other guy they hire because he bows lower.

Then there are the conversations that begin along the lines of "We want kick drum and bass in the LFE..." :headbang:
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon May 20, 2019 7:34 pm

The Elf wrote:I like to bleed a little of something of the front-centre elements into the Centre channel, to help the feeling of a 'front' to the mix...

A lot of people do, but it's not without side effects -- the extent of which depends on the amount of bleed.

Whenever you have the same thing at similar levels coming from multiple speakers there is the risk of anyone sitting off-centre hearing colouration due to different time of arrivals and resultant comb-filtering.

So while it might sound great for the mix engineer sitting at the designated hot seat in the centre of the 5.1 rig, how likely is it that the home consumer will match that setup at home, and how many family viewers are likely to be watching the DVD while they're sat off centre?

Having said that, low-level bleed to the centre probably isn't a problem as far as colouration is concerned, but it will still confuse the imaging as the phantom (LR) centre won't be aligned with the hard centre speaker for off-centre viewers/listeners.

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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon May 20, 2019 7:52 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:LFE and bass management - here's a full run-down of everything you ever wanted to know about LFE and bass management for DVD and BluRays but were too afraid to ask!

:lol: We love standards... It's why we have so many (incompatible) ones!

It's a complete nightmare of chaos and confusion, made all the worse by multi-format players that might, or might not, alter the LFE levels depending on the disc and coding formats...

I've come across a few different calibration discs that get it wrong too!
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby blinddrew » Mon May 20, 2019 8:49 pm

I struggle enough with stereo, at least that's just two things to **** up! ;)
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Elf » Mon May 20, 2019 9:41 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
The Elf wrote:I like to bleed a little of something of the front-centre elements into the Centre channel, to help the feeling of a 'front' to the mix...

A lot of people do, but it's not without side effects -- the extent of which depends on the amount of bleed.
Typically I mid/side the L/R and solo the mid into the C speaker. I keep it at least 6dB (and usually lower) under the main L/R, but it does enough to help differentiate 'front' from 'back'. Doing it this way at least doesn't seem to narrow the L/R width.

Of course anything I do is dictated by what I'm given in material and directive!
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon May 20, 2019 10:20 pm

Slightly off topic but I have wondered (and, IIRC, asked the question before) about the content of the centre speaker signal. I assume it is mostly dialogue? I'm 66 and my hearing is undergoing age related deterioration, Many films and TV drama's have the background, ambience and music set at levels that make the dialogue difficult to hear if you no longer have 20 year old ears, would mixing the centre speaker signal into the stereo mix (I have no desire to adopt surround sound at home) increase the relative level of the dialogue?
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon May 20, 2019 10:26 pm

On feature films the centre channel is predominantly dialogue, so you could take the 5.1 output and then do your own stereo down-mix, pulling the surround channels back a bit, and pushing the centre channel up a bit to improve dialogue intelligibility. And I know several people that do precisely that.

However, this re-balanced down-mix idea may not work so well with conventional telly programmes as it's not as common to put all the dialogue in the centre channel in TV land. Some balancers do, but most seem to prefer to use a phantom centre from LR.

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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Elf » Mon May 20, 2019 11:20 pm

It would be fascinating to hear the approaches that TV mixers take with 5.1 - one for the mag?
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Red Bladder » Tue May 21, 2019 10:02 am

The Elf wrote:It would be fascinating to hear the approaches that TV mixers take with 5.1 - one for the mag?
That's easy - it's done for them. All they do is take the stereo mix and compress the living daylights out of it and destroy the LFE sounds completely.

Few people realise the care, love and attention that goes into creating a decent 5.1/7.1 mix for a movie and the hours that mastering engineers spend creating a perfect DVD or BluRay disk. The process takes a long time and it costs real money if it is to be done well.

Usually, the DCP will contain a series of mixes, inc. a stereo mix. The surround channels are 'folded' into the stereo with anti-phase to make them appear outside the speakers and that's about it. Dynamic range should stay about the same, but will usually be reduced slightly for DVD/BR release. This should be done by intelligent gain-riding for the quiet scenes, rather than using compression.

Terrestrial TV stations just use that stereo mix, but their broadcast compressors crush the life out of movie soundtracks.
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue May 21, 2019 10:27 am

The Elf wrote:It would be fascinating to hear the approaches that TV mixers take with 5.1 - one for the mag?

I have discussed how 5.1 mixes are made in previous articles on the making of Later with Jools, and The Proms

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/making-later-jools-holland

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/bbc-proms

...but the general thinking here -- understandably -- is that broadcast sound is not what SOS is all about.

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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue May 21, 2019 10:36 am

The Red Bladder wrote:
The Elf wrote:It would be fascinating to hear the approaches that TV mixers take with 5.1 - one for the mag?
That's easy - it's done for them. All they do is take the stereo mix and compress the living daylights out of it and destroy the LFE sounds completely.

Ha ha! :lol: I've seen considerable care and attention go into crafting superb, bespoke, 5.1 TV mixes -- both live and in post-production. I've also seen bodged up-mixes where the shooting budget only paid for stereo, but the prod team were subsequently told to provide 5.1 mixes for commercial release...

Terrestrial TV stations just use that stereo mix, but their broadcast compressors crush the life out of movie soundtracks.

Yes... that's always going to be a tricky one when cinematic mixes intentionally have massive dynamic ranges to impress audiences in a large-scale movie theatre with a huge PA system. Domestic TV viewing is simply not compatible with that kind of dynamic range. Never was, never will be. So some kind of dynamic compression is both inevitable and essential for the average TV audience -- whether old-school at home or Next-gen watching on a phone or tablet.

Ideally, the dynamic range would be reduced and controlled sympathetically... but that requires skilled operators and resources for which no broadcaster will pay... so we end up with various automated transmission processing systems -- some better than others -- but all of which get routinely caught out.

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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Elf » Tue May 21, 2019 11:24 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
The Elf wrote:It would be fascinating to hear the approaches that TV mixers take with 5.1 - one for the mag?

I have discussed how 5.1 mixes are made in previous articles on the making of Later with Jools, and The Proms
I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of Coronation Street, where those guys have to deliver the goods day n, day out, and must have some tight standards.
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue May 21, 2019 11:35 am

Sorry, I don't know anything about the way they do the sound in Corrie, and I've not listened to it in surround -- I'll check it out when I next get a chance.

But with a show like that, it's a more-or-less fixed rig, experienced crew, well-known sets, and pretty standard drama shoot process, so easier to come up with something that generates a reasonable surround sound effect reliably, despite the tight schedules and fast turnarounds.

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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Red Bladder » Tue May 21, 2019 12:44 pm

Sam Spoons wrote:Slightly off topic but I have wondered (and, IIRC, asked the question before) about the content of the centre speaker signal. I assume it is mostly dialogue? I'm 66 and my hearing is undergoing age related deterioration, Many films and TV drama's have the background, ambience and music set at levels that make the dialogue difficult to hear if you no longer have 20 year old ears, would mixing the centre speaker signal into the stereo mix (I have no desire to adopt surround sound at home) increase the relative level of the dialogue?
A fascinating question!

I am right now as we speak, adapting a series of short stories to a screenplay. Most of the page-space is taken up by direction. The first three pages are almost totally direction - i.e. no dialogue!

I take the view that dialogue is just vague noise. It's part of the sound design and not necessary to tell the story at all! The characters may speak a bit, but what they say is just the usual social noises people make "Come in!" "There you are!" "Hello!" Goodbye!" "Why does it hurt when I pee?" stuff like that.

Yes, the dialogue usually comes from the centre speaker and I personally take the view that you should be able to switch off the centre speaker and still be able to follow the film. If you have to lay a load of pipe (create the plot) through dialogue, then there is something wrong with your story.

Obviously, you sometimes have to give some pipe-laying to the dialogue in the same way that they had to occasionally use 'intertitle' text frames in silent movies. In those cases, it should be clear and underscored by the action.

That's all fine and dandy for a movie. We usually have a wide 'Cinemascope' format and the whole story should be more like a dream or a piece of music. A movie should be like a visual poem (IMO).

TV ain't like that and the people who make TV dramas do not (usually) think like that. TV sets are often nasty little things and the audio is stereo at best. Most TV is little better than radio with pictures. And because budgets are constrained and TV is really a 9-5 daily grind, you can't spend all week shooting a rain-soaked action scene of Mrs MacWirter getting lost on the moors.

Because TV is just radio with pictures, we give the act of telling the audience that Mrs MacWirter is lost on the moors to the dialogue. The problem there is, not every member of the audience is going to hear that statement. Some may be Mutt-n-Jeff, some may have just gone to the loo and others are away, getting a beer out of the fridge or just not paying attention.

Sometimes people ask if I miss my days in television - do I hell! It's a daily grind. It's not an adventure like a movie. Come in Monday, script conference, read-through. Tuesday walk-through. Wednesday rehearsals. Thursday rehearsals. Friday dress rehearsals and taping. Monday script conference and read through . . .

Rinse, repeat, retire and die!

This sausage-factory method of churning out third-rate guff like Eastenders hardly lends itself to the creation of great art.

But things are changing. Netflix has just signed up to use 15,000 sqm of studio space at Pinewood for £6m p.a. over 10 years and is said to be out shopping for UK production companies it can swallow. It promises to bring film quality products to television.

At the same time, TV sets are getting bigger, the images are getting better as more and more stuff is shown in HD or UHD and sound systems are getting better.

With a bit of luck, we should be able to see Mrs MacWirter getting lost on the moors!
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Korff » Tue May 21, 2019 12:56 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:If you have to lay a load of pipe (create the plot) through dialogue, then there is something wrong with your story.

lol, I completely agree — but apparently lots of AAA movie-makers don't! So much Hollywood crap is littered with explanatory dialogue that's only there for the benefit of slow Joe in the back row.

"What's that, Skippy? Jim fell down the old mineshaft??"
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Re: 5.1 mixes that are really just botched up-mixes!

Postby The Red Bladder » Tue May 21, 2019 1:00 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Sorry, I don't know anything about the way they do the sound in Corrie, and I've not listened to it in surround -- I'll check it out when I next get a chance.
Despite having worked on that dreadful programme back in the B&W 405 days (around 49BC) I can honestly say that I have never seen a single episode.

The idea of not only watching that bilge but listening to it in surround sound makes me feel singularly nauseous!
The Red Bladder
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