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Private Peaceful: Drama in surround sound

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Rupert Brun Rupert Brun 13:39, Friday, 3 February 2012

Ed's note: This Saturday's Play on Radio 4 is Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful, dramatised by Simon Reade. Directed on location by Susan Roberts, there are several different audio versions of the drama in surround sound available to download. Here Audio and Music's head of technology outlines the different listening options and how to get them - PM.



Following our successful experiment offering A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in surround sound at Christmas, we are now giving you the chance to hear a drama in surround sound. This time it will be available to download.

There are two versions of Private Peaceful to try, one is designed for use with normal surround sound speakers and the other gives an impression of listening on surround sound speakers using normal headphones.

To find out more about Michael Morpurgo’s play Private Peaceful, visit the programme page.

To listen in Surround Sound on speakers

You need to download the audio file of the play and player from the internet by following these instructions, then install the player on a Windows PC connected via a surround sound card or HDMI cable to a multimedia amp or "home cinema".

Once you have accepted the terms and conditions you will be able to install the player.

When you’ve downloaded the player or the audio file, connect the surround sound output from your computer to the amplifier input using separate leads or an HDMI lead, then just drag and drop the downloaded audio file onto the player and it should play.

The special player will only work for the two weeks we are running this experiment, after which it will stop working and you should uninstall it. After the experiment, you will still be able to play the audio in stereo using a variety of media players.

To listen in Binaural Sound on headphones

You will need to experiment to find out which one works best for you; it will depend on the shape of your head and ears and the type of headphones you are using.

Once you have downloaded the audio, you can play it on your computer or put it in a mobile mp3 player or smartphone to take with you and enjoy at any time. There is no time limit on the binaural version and it should play on most devices but if you switch to a different type of headphones you may find you need to use a different binaural version of the audio

Strange though it may seem, different versions may also be affected by the size of room you are listening in and this is one of the properties we are seeking to examine with this experiment.

We'd like your feedback

We welcome comments on this blog, but if you have a question please check the FAQs first. We would also like you to complete the short survey to help us understand how the experiment worked for you; it covers both the loudspeaker and headphone experiments.

Find out more about the feedback we had from the last surround sound experiment with Radio 3’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Rupert Brun is head of technology, BBC Audio & Music


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks very much for making this available - so far with the binaural version, using earspeakers, I have found version 4 to be the most immersive, version 1 the least.

  • Comment number 2.

    Anything by the author of War Horse has to be worth tuning into and we certainly enjoyed Private Peaceful which was faithful to the book and enhanced by the audio experience especially the singing. Thank you, more please...!

  • Comment number 3.

    It's not clear on the download page which versions are binaural and which ones are surround, any idea where that information is and maybe some more technical information about how the spacialisation was achieved?

  • Comment number 4.

    agree with Dr-Soundmind (3).
    Just what is what. Above you say 'two versions' and the podcast page has files for 4 audio versions

  • Comment number 5.

    What is all this about?!? All I want to do is download a podcast onto my MP3 player and listen to the podcast. I don't have time to prat around and I was not happy first to download what I thought was a play only to find it was a 'There's a new podcast going to be available in several days" or suchlike, and then to download what I thought was a play only to find it was in a non-standard format and so therefore inaudible on my player. I certainly won't be downloading extra bits of software - even if they will function on my MP3 player, which I doubt - just to listen to *words*, for heaven's sake!

    If the BBC really wants something to do, then please make the confounded website quicker and more streamlined.

  • Comment number 6.

    The player wouldn't work on my PC, obviously fussy about soundcards, just sat there with the play/skp buttons flashing.

    Looksas though the player needs some work on it, real shame, was looking forward to it

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm new to this and still confused; I just want to keep the radio play on my computer (or iPod) using iTunes, not bothered about surround sound or anything fancy. Can anyone tell me which number version to download please?

  • Comment number 8.


    thank you for reporting this player problem. In order to be able to reproduce the misbehaviour could you please be more specific wrt the OS and soundcard which is being used?

    Thank you and best regards,

    Andreas Hoelzer (Fraunhofer IIS)

  • Comment number 9.


    actually any of the above mentioned files will work with iTunes or an iPod. The file which supports surround sound is backwards compatible to regular stereo playback. This is one key property of the technology used here (which is called MPEG Surround).

    The files called "binaural" versions are meant to give the impression of listening to a 5.1 surround setup via headphones. You can try any of these and see which one gives the best spatial impression for you.

    I hope this helps ...

    Best regards,

    Andreas Hoelzer (Fraunhofer IIS)

  • Comment number 10.

    Whilst some people may be interested in binaural sound experiments most people just want a copy of what was broadcast so they can listen to it on thei PC, MP3 player or whatever. Offering 4 versions and saying try them to see which is best for you is simply annoying to those who just want to listen to the play. It is also confusing to anyone who does not understand (or care) about the technology.
    It would be much clearer if there was just a single download on the main page, and a link to a separate page for anyone interested in the binaural experiment.

  • Comment number 11.

    I VERY much enjoy BBC radio drama. What appeals to me is the PLAY, NOT the technology. The normal technology that you have been using is perfectly fine. I would be most upset to learn that by adding new technical costs to productions you might endanger the volume of radio plays that are made available. Please stick to what works and focus on the play, the actors and the direction NOT on unnecessary new technology. I found the questionnaire (which I completed) to be an inadequate instrument to provide you with sound feedback, poorly worded and limited.

  • Comment number 12.

    Brilliant. I am passionate about radio drama and listen to most drama productions broadcast on Radio 3 and 4. I carefully listened to the various audio versions twice and opted for 4. I was unaware of this new development in sound but I welcome it with open arms and ears.

  • Comment number 13.

    I thought I'd comment to provide a little more information about this experiment. I think it is important to emphasis that it is an experiment. If you're just want to hear the play as it was broadcast you can do so, just head over to the programme page, that Rupert links to in the post.

    Andreas explains a little more about surround sound over speakers in comment 9.

    The binaural podcast presents you with 4 different versions of the recording. All are the same 5.1 mix of the play, they're just rendered differently. We have been intentionally vague about the difference between each because we don't want to influence the responses we may get to the questionnaire. At the end of the experiment we will post an analysis of the results to the BBC R&D blog. This will go into more detail about the aims and design of this experiment.

    Thanks for taking the time to take part, I look forward to analysing people's responses to the experiment.

    Anthony Churnside, BBC Research and Development

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Anthony, At last! A binaural version. The drama is excellent on standard stereo - the format in which I first heard it. I commend your vision (!) in trying this. However, there is a VAST difference between a binaural conversion of a 5.1 speaker presentation and a pure binaural production and recording as the 1st generation recording.

    In your spatialisation sure we hear the speakers and (annoyingly) the room acoustic. But I would prefer to be transported there - where the actors performed and into the locations used. That is true binaural.

    Sadly I really do feel that the binaural opportunity has been wasted. By all means distribute the speaker surround audio mix files (as you have done), but second rate speaker conversion replay to headphone binaural is really not what I would call professional broadcast quality pure binaural. And I wonder whether the original recording was mono/stereo (m/s even) sources that have been mixed to 5.1 surround, or a true surround source recording like Ambisonic? I suspect the former.

    Having said that, once again I commend the BBC for this relaunch of drama in the binaural format and hope that in future such programmes will be created in pure binaural with no intention of creating any second rate speaker versions from pure headphone binaural content.

    Dallas Simpson

  • Comment number 15.

    The response "If you're just want to hear the play as it was broadcast you can do so, just head over to the programme page" misses the point. I often do listen to programs on iPlayer, but for a 90 minute play it seemed a better option to download a podcast so I could listen to it on an mp3 player without being tied to a pc.
    I wanted to hear the play.
    I did not want to be faced with choosing which version to download, with no information to tell me which one to choose.
    I did not want to download 4 versions and spend hours listening to it 4 times in order to find out which version is best, as part of an experiment.
    Had there been a link to download a version from those who just wanted to listen to the play it would be much clearer for those of us who are interested in the content not the experiment.

  • Comment number 16.

    I found it a bit confusing to be presented with 4 versions of the podcast without any explanation (at least on the download page) as to why there were 4 versions and what I was supposed to do with them. I've given it a go now and version 1 is the least successful for me.

    The drama itself sounds wonderful so huge thanks for making this available via MP3, I suspect I will listen to it several times while doing 'keep fit'.

  • Comment number 17.

    I downloaded the surround sound mp4 version to play on my Sony BDV370 surround system. But the file only played in stereo. Can we have a version to play directly on a surround system and not through a PC?

  • Comment number 18.

    Hello all

    Private Peaceful is this week's Play of the Week podcast so for seven days you can download the podcast of the broadcast version here:



    Paul, Editor of the R4 blog

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks to every one for all these comments. They are greatly valued and will help us understand where we might go with spatial audio in the future.
    Firstly apologies for any confusion about how to find the standard stereo Podcast for all those of you who just wanted to get straight to the story as usual. Because Private Peaceful is the Play/Drama of the week it only appeared as a “standard” Podcast today (Friday the 10th) despite being broadcast on the Saturday the 4th of February. Friday is the day when we make the new Play of the week Podcast available and unfortunately this has left us with nearly a week when our experimental versions are the only Podcasts to be found. I can see this is confusing and I think we need to look at this.
    It may also appear confusing that we don’t recommend which version of Binaural you should choose but this is because we don’t yet know. The effectiveness of the binaural format, even when recorded with a dummy head, varies depending on the characteristics of the listener’s head and ears. So thanks to those who complete the questionnaire as that will helps us to work out how to optimise binaural as a listening experience for the largest number of people.
    We are also sorry the MPEG surround file won’t play on many home cinema systems and is mostly bound to the PC at the moment. We are using MPEG surround for a number of reasons including its audio quality, its bit rate efficiency and the fact that if you don’t have an MPEG Surround player it should work in stereo! If our experiments are successful we will certainly look at making spatial audio available in more ways and more formats but for the time being we are limiting ourselves to ensure we keep costs down.
    This comes to my last point. One of the reasons for these experiments is to make sure we can manage the complexity of these new formats, whilst maintaining quality and keeping costs down. Our intention is to make great content better and not to increase costs or reduce the amount of radio we make!

    Simon Tuff - BBC Principal Technologist

  • Comment number 20.

    The first time I have listened on headphones to binaural, so interesting to hear it working.

    As to the versions, by far the most effective way of comparing the versions was to listen to the test tones in sequence. I could not tell any difference between 3 and 4, both of which were better than 1 and 2. In all cases the LFE channel was at very low volume, which I guess is due to the analogue output stage of my Apple lap top computer.

    Headphones are good quality over-ear Sennheiser.

    As to the play itself, the surround effect was not much apparent - certainly nothing like as obvious as with the test tones.

  • Comment number 21.

    Thanks to Simon Tuff for the feedback. Binaural versions 3 & 4 seemed similar with 4 possibly the best for me.
    Re: "It may also appear confusing that we don’t recommend which version of Binaural you should choose but this is because we don’t yet know. The effectiveness of the binaural format, even when recorded with a dummy head, varies depending on the characteristics of the listener’s head and ears."
    Fair point. It is impossible to eliminate this issue. However, the premise seems to be that speaker presentation is the definitive presentation system –'in a room with speakers' according to Anthony Churnside's video - and that the binaural experience should provide a headphone emulation of the speaker surround experience.

    If the above statement of 'the speaker supremacy' actually corresponds to current BBC policy then I feel sure that policies can be reviewed and changed. By default as a human race we had ears long before any sound reproducing technology had been conceived. It would probably be fair to say that headphone listening is on the increase at present with the increasing use of portable players in a variety of forms.

    In terms of listening experience your own research indicated: '60% of the respondents agreed that their preferred version of the service sounded like they were at the event, 87% agreed that their preferred version sounded spacious.'

    Binaural recording of a live event fulfils these criteria admirably – literally the experience of being 'at the event', without the necessity to mix down to speaker surround 5.1 sound then re-convert the speaker surround, with its inherent spatial limitations notably lack of vertical information, back to binaural.

    Sure, we still have the real and complex issue of the variability of individual head/ear/body morphology, and of the influence of headphone type - whether the listener is using in-ear, open or closed headphones and so forth. But I would rather see the BBC dealing with those issues from the perspective of pure sourced binaural productions. Please can we have some pure binaural productions to assess, without having to refer to speaker surround production values reproduced binaurally.

  • Comment number 22.

    I listened to Private Peaceful last night and was "blown away" at the sheer audio quality achieved with binaural. The positioning of all the actors was just incredible, and when the explosions occured they really did make me jump.
    I listened to P.P.from an Ipad which was connected to an Arcam Neo Solo and listened with pair of Sennheiser HDR 180 headphones.
    As a disabled person who has time on their side(and listens to a lot of radio drama) I was able to experiment with the different versions and the best version for my particular set up was version 4.
    I know this was an experiment, but if this is the direction radio drama is going I can't wait.
    Well done BBC for bringing new,innovative technology to us.

  • Comment number 23.

    Thanks everyone for the comments so far, please do also follow the link to the survey https://bbcarp.org.uk/survey/index.php?sid=72671 so that we can get some statistical information to go alongside your comments here.

    I'm sorry for the confusion caused by the normal podcast not being available for the first week of the experiment. "Play of the Week" podcasts are available on the Friday following transmission and I should have made this clear.

    Regarding the binaural debate I would like to explain a little more about why we are doing the experiment this way.

    It's certainly true that recording with a "dummy head" or putting the microphones in the actors' ears can create a wonderful sense of “being there” but this only works well if, at a single location, you can create the sound you want the listener to hear. For much of our output this isn’t possible – we need to mix in pre-recorded effects or use additional microphones positioned to make a specific sound clear. This is in part why we are experimenting with binaural rendering of the sound rather than binaural recording.

    As Dallas Simpson and others have pointed out, head shape and size along with the type of headphones are important in creating an effective binaural presentation. Our experiment with “Nine Lessons and Carols” at Christmas focussed on this, presenting the same mix rendered for 3 different head shapes and 2 different types of headphones. The current experiment is looking at other factors which affect the listening experience. There isn’t a “BBC Policy” for binaural sound at present; we are genuinely experimenting here and nothing we do in these experiments should be taken as an indication that a particular technique or technology is preferred.

    I’m also very keen to get your feedback on the MPEG surround loudspeaker presentation, unlike the binaural versions which work with almost any player, you need to hook your computer up to a surround sound system and download the special player. If you do have the technology to do this please give it a try and let me know what you think. Surround sound for TV isn’t exactly new but I’m would like to hear what you think of drama reproduced over a 5.1 setup when there are no pictures on the screen. As the MPEG version is backward compatible you will also be able to enjoy the play in very high quality stereo using this version, even after the experiment is finished and the special surround sound player stops working.

    Rupert Brun
    Head of Technology for BBC Audio & Music.

  • Comment number 24.

    Yet again the BBC shoots its self in the foot.
    I stumbled upon this today, 18th Feb, folowed the link to download the binoral versions, this took me to the Podcast page which states that the recording is avaialble for download for 14 days, but also states "no episodes of the podcast are avaialble", when I last worked it out 10th +14 days = 24th! What is the point of carrying out these experiments if the listener cannot partisipate?
    I have downloaded the 5.1 version, but have to re-wire my sound system to listen to it as I use outputs 3-8 on my PC for surround, and the player does not have facilities to select which outputs I use.

  • Comment number 25.

    The experiment is now finished and the audio is no longer available. The blog has been left open until 27th February to collect any further views and answer final questions. If you have already downloaded the binaural sound you can still play it, but the player for the MPEG loudspeaker surround will no longer work for licensing reasons.

    To answer Pete Suthers’ point, the audio for the experiment was available for two weeks from the date I started the blog on the 3rd of February but the "normal" podcast was not available until the 10th of February. We will make this clear in future experiments and I apologise for the confusion. The feedback about the desirability of some means for the user to assign channels to sound card outputs within the player is also noted.

    Rupert Brun
    Head of Technology for BBC Audio & Music.

  • Comment number 26.

    Thanks to Rupert Brun for clarification of the 'binaural position'. However, regarding: "...but this only works well if, at a single location, you can create the sound you want the listener to hear. For much of our output this isn’t possible – we need to mix in pre-recorded effects or use additional microphones positioned to make a specific sound clear. This is in part why we are experimenting with binaural rendering of the sound rather than binaural recording."

    - I have produced and created complex binaural drama productions using mixes of binaural material recorded in a variety of locations including binaural sound effects (even underwater) and additional stereo / mid-side and mono material for 'inside the head' placement against 'outside the head' binaural spatialisation for dramatic effect. And including movements of particular sounds into and out of the listener's head. See also Planet B binaural trailer!

    I reject the premise that you can only create 'true' binaural recordings with sound effects and complex mixes 'at a single location'. If you would like me to demonstrate these techniques, or offer demo recordings I would be happy to do so.

  • Comment number 27.

    I listened to this play in surround using my speakers. I can only say how impressed I was and how I have waited some 35 years to hear once again a play in surround on the radio. I listened to plays such as The Tempest (also King's College Festival of Carols) in Matrix H Quad and they were splendid to hear. So it was amazing to hear this play really come to life in surround. I note that one comment here does not want to have surround for fear of losing the focus on the play. The reality is that broadcasting a play or programme in surround allows us all to benefit, those who want to listen in mono or stereo and those who want to enjoy all of the amazing benefits that surround brings, for benefits there are. It is the same with music as well as speech, surround offers the ability to be far more immersed in the production, to hear far more of the detail that in the programme and have a real sense of place with the ambience that surround offers. It also adds a dimension to allow the director to be creative, it is like adding 3D to sound and creates a more involved listening experience.

    It is really refreshing to see that surround is being seriously explored and will offer us real choice bringing us into the 21st century in our listening experiences. I look forward to more forays into surround sound on the radio. Would it be possible to dust down some of the archive quad programmes from the 70s and broadcast them again?


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