Newswatch October 2011

SMPTE Industry News - Monthly Tech Focused Newsletter of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers

Hot Button Discussion
CALM Considerations
By Michael Goldman

As 2011 ticks toward its conclusion, one of the things the broadcast industry will be waiting to see is exactly how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) goes about implementing a new law known as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act. CALM was enacted almost a year ago as a government response to consumer complaints about widely uneven audio levels between commercials and programming, and loud commercials generally. The law requires the FCC to adopt relevant elements of the industry developed ATSC Recommended Practice: Techniques for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness for Digital Television (document A/85) in order to address this concern, and to do so by December 15, 2011, which is obviously rapidly approaching.

A/85 was approved by the ATSC membership on November 4, 2009. The Recommended Practice (RP) provides guidance to broadcasters and creators of audio for high-definition (HD) or standard-definition (SD) television content, and also recommends production, distribution, and transmission practices needed to provide the highest quality audio soundtracks to the digital television audience. The document focuses on audio measurement, production and post-production monitoring techniques, and methods to effectively control loudness for content delivery or exchange. Additionally, the RP recommends methods to effectively control program-to-interstitial loudness, discusses metadata systems and use, and describes modern dynamic range control. It also includes specific information on loudness management at the boundaries of programs and interstitial content.

The CALM Act was enacted into law on December 15, 2010, requiring the Federal Communications Commission to adopt relevant portions of ATSC A/85. Then, on May 27, 2011, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as required by the CALM Act in order to get broadcast industry input on how best to implement A/85 since, as mandated by the statute, the proposed rules will apply to TV broadcasters, cable operators, and other multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). Comments filed with the FCC overwhelmingly supported the use of A/85.

However, A/85 covers a wide array of technical topics, while the CALM Act was designed to address more specifically the issue of loudness in commercials. Furthermore, Congress, realizing there was industry consensus regarding technical requirements for controlling loudness, wrote the CALM Act to specify that ATSC A/85 and "any successor thereto" would be the basis of the FCC's approach to control loudness in commercials. That provision led the ATSC to look for ways to revise A/85 with appropriate guidelines more specific to loudness in commercials.

"(The 'successor thereto' language) essentially gave ATSC carte blanche to change A/85 and have those changes have the weight of law," explains Patrick Waddell, Standards and Regulatory Manager for Harmonic, a SMPTE Fellow, and  chair of the ATSC Specialist Group working on this issue. "ATSC realized that A/85 covered a huge amount of technical territory dealing with loudness generally, along with mixing environments and several other things, and was therefore too broadly drafted for it to be the object of specific rules without some changes made."

Thus, the ATSC wrote what Waddell calls "two crisply worded annexes that could stand alone, and which contain the sort of mandatory aspects of this in terms of what broadcasters and MPVDs would need to do to comply."

The goal was to provide the FCC with a simple way to specify the vital aspects of A/85. Therefore, earlier this year, the ATSC membership approved revisions to A/85 to provide more targeted guidelines that are relevant and vital to the CALM Act's focus—the broadcast of commercials. The first revision in this regard was to add what is called Annex J: "Requirements for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness of Commercial Advertising in Digital Television."

Then, in July of this year, ATSC approved a second revision called "Requirements for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness of Commercial Advertising in Digital Television When Using Non-AC-3 Audio Codecs" as Annex K of A/85. Annex J was designed to cover broadcasters and others whose programming relies on the AC-3 audio system from the ATSC Digital TV Standard, while Annex K addresses non-AC-3 audio systems used by MPVDs.

Now, the industry awaits the FCC's official decision about how to implement CALM. Waddell knows CALM's history well and is hopeful that implementation will take the form of emphasizing Annexes J and K specifically, as they have the most relevance to the issue as compared to the other portions of A/85. Waddell is chair of one of the ATSC's standing Specialist Groups, TG1/S6 (the Specialists Group on audio/video coding). He was also in charge of forming the ATSC's ad-hoc committee (TG1/S6-3) on audio loudness issues—a committee formed to address the concern of loudness variations in digital broadcasting years before the government got involved.

Waddell says he appreciates that there is uneasiness on the part of some broadcasters and MPVDs as they wait for the FCC to finalize the rules regarding compliance with the relevant aspect of A/85. He says A/85's emergence into a cornerstone of a Federal law is a direct result of the industry's transition to DTV. Indeed, the ATSC began developing A/85 in 2007 as it became obvious that with digital broadcast signals capable of transmitting 100 dB or more of dynamic range down the pipe minus the hisses and pops of the analog era, the creative community would begin taking advantage of that reality in all sorts of new ways.

"That (100 dB of dynamic range) is a whole lot of space, and as it became clear there was no standardized operating points, every television station, post-production house, and movie studio was basically doing their own thing as far as setting the operating point where they thought it could or should be level-wise," Waddell says. "Therefore, one of the major results of the work that led to A/85 was a recommended operating point (a target loudness value of -24 LKFS with leeway of ±2 dB built in due to measurement variations). The other unexpected result, which we should have seen at the beginning in retrospect, was the method and technology for monitoring loudness levels in control rooms had to improve."

A key component of A/85 was the development of a loudness measurement algorithm capable of closely matching the human ear. That algorithm was created by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In 2009, ITU published a document called BS.1770 that formed the foundation for the creation of more accurate loudness measurement tools now built and offered to the industry by several manufacturers, including Waddell's employer, Harmonic.

"Previously, all the measurement technology was created to measure industrial noise and, at best, was a gross approximation of how the human ear can perceive loudness," he adds. "So this was an important step."

Waddell hopes that the FCC, when it shortly announces its rules on this matter, adopts Annex J and Annex K as the "requirements" broadcasters must follow. The implications are great for the broadcast industry potentially, he says, since whatever requirements broadcasters need to comply with will impact how they interact with production companies, post houses, and others up and down the food chain. How local TV stations and cable stations that air largely ethnic content from other nations handle the requirements and figure out the best audio measuring and conversion technologies for their infrastructures at an already challenging time from a financial point of view will be impactful, as well.

"Smart broadcast operators already have the measuring technology in place, especially major networks, but local stations are probably going to wait until after December 15 to figure out how to implement the rules," Waddell says. "Sales for that technology have been fairly slow until now, but that will likely change. The BS.1770 algorithm is reasonably straightforward to implement, and I suspect that there will be an open source implementation before too long. And the ATSC website has some digital audio test streams to allow people without these newer instruments to actually set up a control room to the correct monitoring level, and we have an Annex (Annex D) that walks them through that process.

"Plus, the ATSC, AES, the Digital Television Group, HPA, NAB, and others have all been passing information along, and will continue that process in the coming year."

At press time, Waddell was scheduled to make a presentation on the topic at the October SMPTE Technical Conference. At the end of the day, he's confident that the industry's work to give broadcasters guidance for minimizing level variations can translate to practice seamlessly if the FCC focuses on the parameters the ATSC is suggesting.

Opinions expressed in SMPTE Newswatch do not necessarily reflect those of SMPTE. Reference to specific products do not represent an endorsement, recommendation, or promotion.

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News Briefs
Kodak's Future

The latest development in Kodak's ongoing evolution occurred recently when Eastman Kodak Co. announced it would be licensing patents for laser-projection technology to Imax Corp. as part of an effort to bulk up revenues and bring an end to swirling rumors about the venerable company's possible bankruptcy. As Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported, the deal brings Kodak a badly needed $10-million-plus immediately plus unspecified royalties over time, while allowing Imax to aggressively expand its roster of digital theaters around the country. Businessweek and other analysts feel the move is part of an ongoing strategy of selling off or licensing various technologies and patents to stabilize the company's cash flow as its consumer photography business continues to be roiled in the digital era. Ironically, Kodak has developed some of the most cutting-edge digital projection and movie-making tools in the world, even as its film units have suffered recently. As Businessweek reports, Kodak officials said vigorously at the end of September when numerous analysts were suggesting otherwise that the company has "no intention" of filing for bankruptcy.

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Apple-Samsung Relations

At the very time when the smartphone wars are heating up in a litigious sort of way between rivals Apple and Samsung, the Korea Times reports that the two rivals are solidifying their relationship as business partners where mobile processors are concerned. The article quotes industry sources as saying Apple will continue purchasing Samsung A6 quad-core mobile processors as it pushes ahead with developing the next generation of the iPhone and other devices. Apple designed the A6 chip, but Samsung has been making them for some time now, and rumors had been circulating that the company would switch to a Taiwanese manufacturer as things got contentious on other fronts between the two companies. However, the article suggests that, for now at least, that business relationship and the legal battles between the two remain separate, although neither company was officially commenting as of mid-October.

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Eight-Core CPUs

Meanwhile, speaking of computer chips, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) recently debuted two computer processors it is claiming are the first eight-core desktop CPUs available. The processors are part of the company's introduction of its FX Bulldozer line of chips and represent the first significant overhaul of AMD's processing architecture since the early 2000s. TechNewsWorld reports the chips are being promoted as lightning-quick for multimedia media encoding and performance. There are four processors in the new FX line, with the FX-8150 and the FX-8120 each having eight cores. Key to the processors is technology to address faster speeds and energy use simultaneously. The new design allows them to push clock speeds and work faster, but constantly monitors power consumption and scales speeds down if certain consumption parameters are exceeded.

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Table of Contents

CALM Considerations

Kodak's Future

Apple-Samsung Relations

Eight-Core CPUs

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24-27 October 2011
SMPTE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition
Hollywood, CA

13-15 May 2012
The SMPTE Forum on Emerging Media Technologies
Geneva, Switzerland

 

 

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