NEWS published on 26 Jul 2019 • Department / Unit Technology & Innovation

Next Generation Audio one step closer to a mass market technology

A recently published technology specification by the International Telecommunication Union has an open-source EBU solution at its heart that will make it easier for manufacturers to offer production solutions with NGA capabilities.

For content producers and broadcasters, the technology opens a path to Next Generation Audio that avoids the issue of having to choose between several commercial NGA systems, each of which are common in some regions and devices but not in others. 

“This is a major success for the R&D centres gathered in the EBU Broadcast Technology Futures group”, said Hans Hoffmann, Head of Media Fundamental at EBU Technology & Innovation.

The “EBU ADM Renderer” (EAR) was created by IRT, BBC, France Télévisions and b<>com under the umbrella of the EBU Broadcast Technology Futures group, as an open specification for the creation and distribution of NGA content. Submitted to the International Telecommunication Union, the EAR then saw further additions from other broadcasters and two of the major NGA system vendors, Dolby and Fraunhofer. The result was now published as the ”ITU ADM Renderer” (IAR).

What is NGA?

Imagine tuning into your broadcaster's international live sports coverage on the phone. You put your headphones on, and what you hear is the ambience of the arena unfolding, more realistically and enveloping than normal stereo. You pick one of the available commentaries, adjust the commentary volume to taste, and for a moment it's like you're there.

Next Generation Audio is attractive for content producers because it can combine a range of features, including multi-lingual content, special services such as for the hard of hearing, and 360-degree immersive sound in a multi-purpose package and data stream. NGA-enabled end-user devices automatically create an appropriate mix based on the playback system's physical capabilities and allow the user to make key choices to suit their needs. Many of these features can be realized on normal devices and only need appropriate software to enable them.

Innovative loudspeaker and processing technologies mean that immersive sound experiences no longer require elaborate cinema or home theatre setups, just a soundbar or good headphones, giving a growing share of the audience the technical capabilities to enjoy immersive sound. 

NGA is a very practical technology to deliver audio-based services and experiences to a wide range of end-user devices with wildly varying audio capabilities.

An easier way to create NGA

There are several commercial and not entirely compatible NGA systems – such as those of Dolby, Fraunhofer and Xperi – that are used in cinemas and in a growing number of TV sets and soundbars.

This means that, currently, content creators need to choose one of the different NGA formats in order to prepare their content for playout in a particular region, on a particular platform, or on a particular set of devices, which limits the portability of that content to other markets. This market fragmentation effectively creates a barrier to entry for content producers who are ready to embrace NGA, and for production system providers that are otherwise ready to implement NGA capabilities in their products.

Published in 2018, the EBU ADM Renderer specification charted a path to what would be an elegant solution to this problem, by defining a vendor-independent format that could easily be converted to any of the existing commercial systems. The ITU specification that incorporates the EAR represents a consensus of multiple public and commercial stakeholders.