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Radio 3 in 4.0

Friday 14 March 2014, 11:21

Rupert Brun Rupert Brun Head of Technology, BBC Radio

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Rupert Brun, Head of Technology for Radio, invites you to participate in a surround sound experiment with BBC Radio 3 and BBC R&D.
Radio 3 Audio Innovation
Radio 3 has a long history of pushing the boundaries with new technology, from early stereo broadcasts in 1958 through wide dynamic range high bit rate audio (HD Sound) to binaural presentation (surround sound in headphones). In collaboration with BBC R&D, we have a new experiment for you to try. For two weeks from 15th to 31st March some of our evening concerts from London’s Southbank will be available in surround sound. This is an experiment so it may not work for you, if you just want to listen to the concerts in the normal way, you can enjoy them here.
What’s new?
There is a new standard for HTML, the language that operates the World Wide Web, called HTML5. It includes an Audio API (application programming interface) which for the first time allows a web browser to play surround sound without the need to download and install additional software. It also includes the Mediasource API, which enables us to use MPEG-DASH, a new standard for media delivery, to get the data to you. Not all web browsers fully support HTML5 (particularly the Mediasource API) yet; we have tested the experiment using Chrome under Windows 7 and Mac OSX, but it might work with other combinations of computer and browser. Although an HTML5 browser can easily play a surround sound file, we think we are first to get a browser to play a live audio stream without plug-ins but would love to hear from anyone else who has done it.
You can read more about the technical aspects of this experiment, see the R&D blog
What do you need?
You will need a computer with an HTML5 compatible browser (such as the latest version of Chrome) and a means to replay surround sound. You could use a multi-channel sound card connected to the computer by USB or you may have luck with an HDMI connection from your computer to a home cinema setup.  If you set up something specially to enjoy the experiment you don’t need to worry about the centre or subwoofer channels as we won’t send any audio to them, but some systems with small speakers put all the bass through the subwoofer in which case you will still need it connected.
What will you hear?
You will hear the concerts in 4.0 rather than the 5.1 presentation usually used for feature films. There won’t be any helicopters or explosions so we don’t need the “0.1” subwoofer channel. We won’t be using the centre channel because it is easier for us to create a surround sound balance without compromising the main stereo programme if we only use two speakers at the front. Not all concerts will be available in surround sound, when the experiment isn’t running you will hear a test announcement. If you are listening on a computer surround sound system you are probably nearer the front speakers than the rear ones; in a home cinema you are probably nearer the rear speakers than the front ones, so you may need to adjust the front to back balance to get a good sound. The rear speakers will carry reverberation during the performance, which should give you a more realistic sense of location within the venue than you get with stereo. You should find applause comes from all around you, helping you feel part of the audience.
During the interval, you will only hear normal stereo.
Philip Burwell describes the experiment from the sound balancer’s perspective… 
There have been many experiments in mixing surround sound over the past 40 years or so.  Generally, they involve either rigging special microphone arrays, or processing the sound electronically to mimic the effect of surround.  On a Super Audio CD, there will often be two separate mixes embedded into the disc, one stereo and one surround.  Many TV broadcasters have to broadcast live on several platforms at the same time, so down-mixers, or ‘black boxes’ may be used to convert surround to stereo without the intervention of the sound balancer.  
In our experiment we are using neither of these approaches.  For reasons of efficiency, we are using just one mixing desk to provide both the stereo and 4.0 mixes, with some extra microphones rigged in the hall.  Our approach, to put it very simply, is to enhance the live stereo mix with some hall ambience in the rear loudspeakers.  We hope you enjoy the experience.
How can we give feedback?
You can give feedback by commenting to this blog, or on Twitter using hashtag #BBCR3surround.
What if it doesn’t work?
As this is very experimental I’m afraid we can’t give you individual help getting it working; if you can’t make it work or just don’t like it, please let us know, and you can always listen using our high quality HD Sound internet stream. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/bbc_radio_three
BBC R&D have created a list of Frequently Asked Questios (FAQ) here.

Rupert Brun, Head of Technology for Radio, invites you to participate in a surround sound experiment with BBC Radio 3 and BBC R&D.

Radio 3 Audio Innovation

Radio 3 has a long history of pushing the boundaries with new technology, from early stereo broadcasts in 1958 through wide dynamic range high bit rate audio (HD Sound) to binaural presentation (surround sound in headphones). In collaboration with BBC R&D, we have a new experiment for you to try. For two weeks from 15th to 31st March some of our evening concerts from London’s Southbank Centre will be available in surround sound. This is an experiment so it may not work for you, if you just want to listen to the concerts in the normal way, you can enjoy them here.

You can read more about the experiment and find links to the R&D Blog and FAQ further down the page, but if you just want to try the experiment you will find the player here but please remember the experiment is only running during our evening concerts, details can be found here.

What’s new?

There is a new standard for HTML, the language that operates the World Wide Web, called HTML5. It includes an Audio API (application programming interface) which for the first time allows a web browser to play surround sound without the need to download and install additional software. It also includes the Mediasource API, which enables us to use MPEG-DASH, a new standard for media delivery, to get the data to you. Not all web browsers fully support HTML5 (particularly the Mediasource API) yet; we have tested the experiment using Chrome under Windows 7 and Mac OSX, but it might work with other combinations of computer and browser. Although an HTML5 browser can easily play a surround sound file encoded with AAC, we think we are first to get a browser to play a live audio stream without plug-ins but would love to hear from anyone else who has done it.

You can read more about the technical aspects of this experiment on the R&D blog.

What do you need?

You will need a computer with an HTML5 compatible browser (such as the latest version of Chrome on Windows or Mac, or IE11 under Windows 8.1) and a means to replay surround sound. You could use a multi-channel sound card connected to the computer by USB or you may have luck with an HDMI connection from your computer to a home cinema setup. If you set up something specially to enjoy the experiment you don’t need to worry about the centre or subwoofer channels as we won’t send any audio to them, but some systems with small speakers put all the bass through the subwoofer in which case you will still need it connected.

What will you hear?

You will hear the concerts in 4.0 rather than the 5.1 presentation usually used for feature films. There won’t be any helicopters or explosions so we don’t need the '0.1' LFE channel. We won’t be using the centre channel because it's easier for us to create a surround sound balance without compromising the main stereo programme if we only use two speakers at the front. Not all concerts will be available in surround sound, when the experiment isn’t running you will hear a test announcement. If you are listening on a computer surround sound system you are probably nearer the front speakers than the rear ones; in a home cinema you are probably nearer the rear speakers than the front ones, so you may need to adjust the front to back balance to get a good sound. The rear speakers will carry reverberation during the performance, which should give you a more realistic sense of location within the venue than you get with stereo. You should find applause comes from all around you, helping you feel part of the audience.

During the interval, you will only hear normal stereo.

Philip Burwell describes the experiment from the sound balancer’s perspective

There have been many experiments in mixing surround sound over the past 40 years or so. Generally, they involve either rigging special microphone arrays, or processing the sound electronically to mimic the effect of surround. On a Super Audio CD, there will often be two separate mixes embedded into the disc, one stereo and one surround. Many TV broadcasters have to broadcast live on several platforms at the same time, so down-mixers, or ‘black boxes’ may be used to convert surround to stereo without the intervention of the sound balancer.  In our experiment we are using neither of these approaches. For reasons of efficiency, we are using just one mixing desk to provide both the stereo and 4.0 mixes, with some extra microphones rigged in the hall. Our approach, to put it very simply, is to enhance the live stereo mix with some hall ambience in the rear loudspeakers. We hope you enjoy the experience.

How can we give feedback?

You can give feedback by commenting to this blog, or on Twitter using hashtag #BBCR3surround.

What if it doesn’t work?

As this is very experimental I’m afraid we can’t give you individual help getting it working; if you can’t make it work or just don’t like it, please let us know, and you can always listen using our high quality HD Sound internet stream from the Radio 3 homepage.

The surround sound player is here and BBC R&D have created a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    Unfortunately yet again the setup does not allow enough user configuration.
    I have a AV amp connected to the mac via optical, and a Firewire connected Edirol 10ch sound card. Even when playing the test file no audio is heard via the optical output, also the Mac will not allow surround to be selected for this output, so directing the speaker feeds is impossible.
    The speaker outputs are selected for the Edirol, as per the link in your blog; 3=L, 4=R, 5=C, 6=Lfe, 7=Sl, 8=Sr. Yet the test appears to play 1=L, 2=R, 3=C, 4=Sl, 5=Sr.
    I long to receive surround broadcasts, but the computer Companies involved have to understand that they have to accommodate how we set up our systems and not require us to re-arrange our systems.
    It would all be much simpler if the BBC just used DTS, DTS decoding is almost ubiquitous in Surround decoding and sounds very good.

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    Comment number 2.

    Further to the above, I have now managed to get the test to play from the optical out of the Mac to the AV amp, yet I find that the Mac appears to be folding the rear channels into the front. nb DTS encoded wav files play back correctly via the optical out on the Mac. nb audio is only heard when the output is set to one of the 2ch modes, which is probably why the rears are folded down to the front. If Encoded Digital Audio is selected no audio is heard from which i assume the data stream format is not supported by my fairly old Sony AV amp,

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    Comment number 3.

    Thanks Peter Suthers for trying so persistently and letting us know about the problems you are having. The objective of the experiment is to test some recent open standards and see how well they are working in the real world, which is why we are not using established technology such as DTS or Dolby. I acknowledge that the new standards are not yet universally implemented but they are likely to become increasingly important for distribution of media over the web so feedback like yours is useful.

    I'm using a USB sound card under Windows 7 and like you, I initially found the rear channels were folding down to the front; it took a bit of experimenting with my sound card settings to get it to behave correctly. We plan to run the experiment for two weeks so I hope you will be able to find a way to get the correct sounds to come out of the correct speakers so that you can enjoy some of the concerts.

    Rupert Brun, Head of Technology, BBC Radio.

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    Comment number 4.

    Listening now in the mock up conservatory based listening chamber. Sounds excellent, using 4 x full range speakers with two amps fed from 7.1 soundcard direct outputs (front & rear, not LFE/Centre or side. I found the audience clapping good for setting the levels, which may seem a bit odd!

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    Comment number 5.

    I recommend using the audience clapping for setting the front/rear levels if you are using two separate amplifiers, I closed my eyes and set the rear level to sound natural as if I was standing there in person. Might sound weird but it worked for me. :)

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    Comment number 6.

    Thank you for the feedback Jonathan Burrows, that's a good tip. I found that adjusting the front / back balance to put me in the centre of the applause resulted in about 3dB gain to the rear speakers, so if listeners adjust until they are in the centre of the applause then turn the rear speakers down a just perceptible amount it should be about "right" as a starting point. Having said that, it's an experiment so I hope everyone will have a play and see what works best for them.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    As a proof of concept, I did it the ultrabudget way: plugged a cheapo Terratec Aureon Mk. 2 USB interface I've had for years into the laptop and threw my nearfields and MacGuyvered rears onto its outputs. Quick configuration for 4.0 output in Windows audio settings and a reload of Chrome (to force dash.js to detect the card) and we were off.

    (Next to try: my forthcoming new desktop build, running my vintage Audigy 2 with trusty kX Project drivers, as those present the various channel pairs in a fairly unusual way).

    Only thing needed was a small adjustment to front/rear balance; it streamed instantly without issue. No buffering or dropouts from the DASH player either, even when I saturated my downstream for a few minutes.

    Sadly only caught the last 45 minutes or so (listened from ~7:25pm) -- ironically if it wasn't for a late check of Twitter, this would have passed me by. It still sounded great on my fairly uncalibrated, mismatched system, no doubt it would have been even better if I'd hooked up some Gennies. When the next concert airs I'll take a listen to it through my 650s to audition the 2.0 downmix :-)

    As other users have commented, this relies upon the browser/OS being able to properly channel map. Can the DASH player be made to expose its internal audio map settings through a menu so users can set custom outputs for each channel / channel pair?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Having re-arranged my surround system, I agree that it worked very well & gave more of a sense of being in the RFH. Being an interweb 'broadcast' it did suffer from the occasional audible artefact, but then if I had been in the RFH I'm sure I would have heard some "artefacts" created by other members of the audience, it is a live concert after all.
    R3 was a pioneer of Surround Broadcasting in the 1970s, its good to hear you doing it again.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    Thanks Peter Suthers, I'm glad you managed to get it going and enjoyed the concert.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    We are having trouble with the server and are unable to stream the 15:00 Mahler concert at present. I'm sorry it isn't working but hope to have it running soon.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    I'm sorry about the delayed start to the streaming of Mahler's Third Symphony, but we are now running, I hope you enjoy the rest of the concert.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    A bit off topic, perhaps: Any chance of assigning a small camera crew to Southbank (or future out-of-studio festivals, art exhibits, concerts, etc.), broadcasting shows live over the Internet for viewing as well as listening? Watching the production and broadcast of BBC Radio 3 live, on line, would be the ultimate radio experience. Perhaps this unprecedented 2-week residency is leading that way. If live video broadcasts on line have been a consideration but is logistically impossible or impractical, I would like to understand. Thank you.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    As twittered: Congrats! Well done. I'm delighted to listen to Radio3 here in Munich in such a sound quality! 320kb/s right? Drop outs do occur, but a good deal are possibly to my poor system (hackbook S-10 running OS 10.6.8 still) and the "high speed" 3Mb/s ADSL provided some 20Km outside Munich by Telekom (Yes! That' what they sell). Oh just now, Chrome told me, the stream has ended "if not, please refresh the page". So now up and running again.
    Basically with my M-Audio Fast tack ultra it's been a real plug'n play experience straight away. Channels all in right order (see screen shot on twitter). To get things more meat, we'd have to get MPEG Surround Decoders in AV-amps, I guess. BTW: We here at BR are about to switch our DAB+ program into DAB Surround. We've been running a dedicated test channel here at IRT location for 3 years now.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    Thank you for your comments. BBCer we don't have plans to put camera crews at this sort of event, other then when they are covered by my colleagues in Television of course, as happens for example with some of the BBC Proms concerts. The small number of viewers would not justify the cost.

    WernerB - sorry to hear about the drop-outs, 3Mb is a bit marginal especially if it is being used for other things at the same time. Good luck with the DAB Surround service!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    Works perfectly on 2 of my pcs running Windows 7 and Google Chrome. One uses a sound card with analog outputs to 2 stereo receivers. The other one is a laptop with an HDMI output that connects to my home theater system. No setting changes were needed on either pc. I hope this "experiment" is permanent. Thank you!!

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    Comment number 16.

    Very nice experience. I hear last night in 5.1 and I really loved the mix of Dvorak. I even recorded the atmosphere of the room that emptied until the end ...
    nouvOson follows you and talk about this event.
    http://nouvoson.radiofrance.fr/
    Thank you for this event

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    Comment number 17.

    I'm using Windows 7 and Chrome 33 but can only get the message "The stream appears to have ended. If the concert hadn't finished, please try refreshing the page." The message arrived at 7:30 and continued. Refreshing had no effect. The test audio played fine so I'm not sure why I couldn't get tonight's broadcast.

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    Comment number 18.

    HI Steve S, I found the stream broke for several minutes this evening, with the same error message as you, but I have just refreshed the page and hit play and it is working again. I'm also using Windows 7 and Chrome 33, would you like to give it another try?
    Rupert Brun
    Head of Technology, BBC Radio.

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    Comment number 19.

    I have the same problem as Peter Suthers. Using a Macbook and an Onkyo AV amp, the rear channels are coming from the front on the test. However, on the broadcast I am getting sound from the rear speakers as well but not sure if this is the true surround channels? This is an exciting prospect - just hope these problems can be ironed out!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    Hi. Just tried rebooting the pc on the offchance that the cache hadn't cleared but I'm still getting the same message as I've had all evening, I'm afraid.

 

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