Posted by Graham Thomas on , last updated
Today (8th July), we are holding a launch event for the BBC Audio Research Partnership at the BBC's new buildings at MediaCityUK in Salford. This marks the culmination of over a year of discussions and meetings between BBC R&D and the UK's top universities in audio and audio-visual research. We will be working with five world-leading university partners, selected for their relevance to BBC R&D's current audio ambitions. Our primary partners will be Surrey University for audio-visual research and Salford University for acoustics research. We will also be working closely with Southampton, Queen Mary, University of London, and York. The BBC has committed to the partnership for at least five years. The BBC's Head of Audio and Music, Tim Davie, will formally launch the partnership in front of an audience of invitees from industry and academia, and the event will then provide a networking opportunity with some demos and posters from the BBC and its new partners.
BBC R&D has been active in audio research for many decades; for example we used to be involved in areas such as loudspeaker design and acoustics for studios, were responsible for some of the first work on digital audio, and more recently have been playing a pivotal role in the development of standards for loudness measurement. The need for the BBC to be at the forefront of audio and audio-visual R&D has never been greater, with ever-advancing developments in technology, that offer new ways for audiences to consume our audio content. There is also a real need to improve efficiency and reduce costs. However, we do not have the in-house resources to do justice to the full range of possibilities that audio now has to offer, and even if we did, we would be missing a trick if we overlooked the world-leading expertise available in the UK academic sector.
BBC R&D's new listening room at MediaCityUK, with a set of speakers for 3D sound tests
The opening of BBC R&D's new lab at MediaCityUK, Salford, has provided a particular impetus for growing our internal audio R&D activities. We now have a team of 6 R&D engineers across our North & South labs, which gives us enough effort to be able to support a new kind of academic collaboration - a long-term strategic relationship with the UK's leading universities. This will allow us to bring significant effort to bear on some key challenges, producing solutions that the BBC can turn into services or industry can turn into products.
To further strengthen our audio team, and to help provide leadership to our new lab in Salford, we want to recruit a senior leader with a strong background in audio. This person will be based in Salford but will lead BBC R&D's audio team across both labs, as well as leading our involvement in the Audio Research Partnership.
A software-based Ambisonics decode being used in the BBC R&D listening room.
Some examples of the key challenges we will be addressing with our academic partners are as follows:
- Could spatial audio be the next major advance for our audiences? We will work with our partners to study the options for true 3D sound - that can envelop the listener from above and below as well as all sides.
- Can arrangements of many speakers be made practical in a typical living room?
- Could 3D audio realistically be delivered via headphones?
- Can we develop ways of separating (or "un-mixing") audio signals that work in practical situations, allowing us to eliminate microphone cross-talk in recording, or allow listeners to re-mix a programme to improve the audibility of dialogue?
- Can we up-mix archived TV programmes from mono or stereo to 5.1 or full spatial audio by analysing the video to place sounds at the right 3D location?
- Can we build on recent advances in automatic metadata generation to provide new tools for both programme makers and our audiences?
- Can music information retrieval help both listeners and production teams navigate around music collections more easily?
- Has speech recognition improved to the stage where we can use it to help navigate programmes or provide better services?
- Can we improve the intelligibility of compressed audio, particularly for the hearing-impaired?
- What new creative and artistic possibilities does spatial audio present?
I'd like to thank my BBC colleagues who have worked hard to bring the collaboration together, particularly the six engineers in our audio team, and Samantha Chadwick (our Strategic Partnerships Executive). I'd also like to thank our colleagues in our partner universities who have enthusiastically embraced the initiative. With the launch of the BBC Audio Research Partnership, we are ready to take the next big step in the evolution of audio!