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Dolby and ARTE take new AC-4 audio capabilities to air in Europe

Dolby and ARTE take new AC-4 audio capabilities to air in Europe

European TV viewers are enjoying a golden age of content, and it’s exciting to be helping make that happen. Many new services both on-air and on the internet are offering near-cinematic quality and unprecedented choice, at the same time that large UHD flat-screen TV receivers have become remarkably affordable. The battle to retain and increase viewer engagement has never been more fierce and with 70% of new 4K sets being AC-4 compatible, broadcasters have a powerful tool.

European culture broadcaster ARTE, in conjunction with Dolby Europe, are, in collaboration with TV set makers, working to bring innovative features to life. ARTE has enabled a pilot of its next generation HbbTV streaming platform with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio delivered via Dolby AC-4.

HbbTV is a standard that brings the flexibility of internet streaming services to broadcasters. The ARTE pilot takes advantage of capabilities added in v2.0.2 of the HbbTV specification, which enable carriage of HDR video and Dolby AC-4 audio. Dolby AC-4 audio is both highly efficient and object-based, letting content creators and broadcasters build programmes that give the viewer increased options and accessibility in how they experience sound.

The pilot has been running for a year, with audio personalisation now the latest feature to be put on air. Here, the standard mix process is replaced by separate audio objects, such as background audio and different language options and the viewer can choose between options. As AC-4 and HbbTV encapsulate metadata about the audio streams, the viewer’s set can display a user interface with the options a particular piece of content offers by providing choices for the objects. Those pre-selections could include presenting the sound with dialogue enhanced above music and background or automatically switching to the viewer’s preferred language whenever available.

Many types of programming can benefit from these capabilities. On a travel documentary, for example, the viewer can have a choice of multiple commentaries, or just live atmospheric audio from the location to enhance immersion, or musical accompaniment on a sightseeing walk – and all mixed to their taste. Concerts can also benefit from a choice of audio vantage points and on/off commentary. Such flexibility will be beneficial to viewers with hearing problems, who can adjust elements of the audio to improve accessibility.

This personalisation comes with the DVB standard of Next Generation Audio, which works with the enhanced capabilities of modern sets to offer rich, immersive listening experiences to broadcast TV viewers, which are essential for long-term competitive parity with online streaming services.

There are advantages to incorporating all options simultaneously in a single bitstream. The content producers no longer need to create, mix, and handle multiple assets when content requires different audio versions. There’s just the one.

With the capabilities demonstrated by the pilot platform, ARTE is showing the real-world importance of Next Generation Audio, the potential of modern TVs, and bringing to life new features valued by content makers, broadcasters and – most importantly – the viewers. New uses of this technology will, undoubtedly, be found in the future as experience is gained and expectations grow, giving the entire industry a pathway into a future of continued competitiveness, relevance and engagement.

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