Freeview HD sacrifices surround sound for World Cup scramble
Same old show on my stereo
Freeview HD may have kicked off to a song and dance about pin-sharp pictures for the World Cup, but many buyers have been disappointed to discover that things sound far from rosy when it comes to the audio side of the service.
Some of the adverts and even Freeview’s own web site talk about surround sound as a benefit of Freeview HD. The reality is rather different.
Many viewers are stuck with stereo when they watch the relatively few programmes with 5.1 audio tracks - even if they have a 5.1 channel sound system at home.
The problem’s down to broadcasters using the AAC codec, rather than Dolby Digital Plus, a decision taken to ensure provision of Audio Description.
The Freeview HD spec allows for boh AAC and Dolby Digital Plus, but manufacturers seem to have assumed that the Dolby system would be used for surround sound.
Surrounds a bit unlikely
Neither codec is supported by most home AV equipment, which typically accepts Dolby Digital or DTS. Dolby Digital Plus can be converted to Dolby Digital fairly easily, but neither transcoding from AAC to Dolby Digital nor multi-channel output via HDMI was originally necessary for Freeview HD certification; a stereo output suffices for now, though full multi-channel output via S/PDIF or HDMI will be required on equipment launched from April 2011.
That information is notably absent from the Freeview HD site, and raises the question of whether getting kit in the shops for the World Cup was more important than making sure it did everything customers might expect of it.
Some receivers may get firmware updates – principally set top boxes, it seems – but other equipment won’t. In short, if you’ve already invested in a Freeview HD TV hoping for 5.1 audio with your favourite programmes, the news sounds very unpromising.
UK Terrestrial HD is a joke
First, OFCOM refuse to contemplate terrestrial HD, in case it upsets Mr Murdoch. Then when Sky have had a sufficient head-start, OFCOM mandates a provisional, next-generation standard that instantly makes obsolete the existing HD-Ready digital TVs, in order to ensure there's enough space for tat merchants and +1hour repeats of channels that show nothing but repeats. Now the failure to nail down the audio specification means yet more obsolete equipment.
OFCOM - One F**king Catalogue Of Mismanagement
You may have two ears, but you clearly have no brain. Yes, you CAN (well, everyone except you, apparently) tell if a sound is coming from behind you. At certain frequencies you may not be able to (this is termed a front-back reversal), just as there are certain frequencies when you can't tell if a sound is from the left or right. This occurs when the wavelength of the sound corresponds to the diameter of your head.
However, compared with other animals, humans are terrible at accurately locating the exact source of a sound. Our ears (outer ears, that is) being stationary, are not capable of pinpointing where sounds originate from, but they can give us a coarse idea.
But most definitely, we can, most of the time, determine whether sound has come from behind us.
Off you toddle, Mr Styles. Have a happy time in your monophonic, one-dimensional world.
Take it back to the shop
It obviously doesn't do what you wanted it to do, so you have probably been mis-sold.
It's called Dolby Pro-logic II.
It's not some vague filtering that creates 3D out of nothing. It is genuinely multiple channels encoded into two. If the producer wants the sound of a donkey to come out of the left rear while the sound of a chicken comes out of the left front then Dolby Pro-Logic II can do that using a stereo source.
I've always assumed that channel separation and dynamic range are somewhat compromised but it is incorrect to say that Freeview 'sacrifices' surround sound. It just doesn't support the best possible way of providing it.
"A good receiver can pull decent surround out of a stereo source anyway"
P.T. Barnum was right.
People who'd like an image to go with this, should google for "tactical facepalm".