LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 2010: For decades, German sport on television has been associated with one program above all others – Sportschau, the weekend sports roundup produced by West German Broadcasting (Westdeutsche Rundfunk, or WDR) and broadcast on the main German public-service terrestrial channel ARD. As the Winter Olympics opened in Vancouver and German public-service TV channels began their long-planned transition to high-definition broadcasting, the much-loved Sportschau moved to a new timeslot on Saturday nights, and, from February 13, 2010, began transmission in high-definition with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound.
WDR needed to ensure that the whole of Sportschau could be broadcast with a 5.1 surround soundtrack every week, even when older or archive material with a stereo soundtrack was due to be included – a considerable technical challenge. Many viewers find it jarring when a stereo segment is broadcast in the midst of a modern high-definition transmission which otherwise features a full 5.1 soundtrack. The stereo parts seem extremely ‘flat’ by comparison. After an intense period of testing various ways of up-mixing stereo to surround, WDR turned to UK manufacturer SoundField and acquired one of its UPM-1 Stereo-to-5.1 processors to handle the job.
Markus Bozzetti is the sound engineer at WDR who was responsible for creating a workable 5.1 audio broadcast workflow for Sportschau in high-definition. He became aware of SoundField’s Upmix Processor while searching for a suitable production-friendly solution. The UPM-1 had already proved itself on live broadcasts from a number of international broadcasters who had faced the same problem as WDR. After a detailed period of testing under working conditions last autumn, Bozzetti established that the UPM-1 fulfilled all of WDR’s requirements regarding live use and usability, as well as the quality of its upmixed, processed surround sound and the phase-coherence of the stereo down-mixes that can be back-formed from that surround.
Asked which UPM-1 features proved decisive in WDR’s decision to adopt SoundField’s upmix processor, Bozzetti is unequivocal. “The UPM-1 is just such a handy sound design tool for mixing stereo material into a multi-channel, surround environment,” he explains. “It was also particularly important to us that stereo-derived upmixed multi-channel material created in the UPM-1 would downmix well if necessary, without phase problems.
Sportschau began live HD transmissions with 5.1 sound at 6pm on February 13th, on the first national German TV channel. The UPM-1 will be in use every week preparing 5.1 content for the Saturday night show from now on.
ABOUT THE UPM-1 SoundField’s UPM-1 is an easy-to-use hardware Stereo-to-5.1 upmix processor, designed with particular emphasis on use in live broadcast environments. A convincing 5.1 soundscape may be created from almost any stereo output material, yet the surround-sound results preserve the stereo imaging of the original, and remain completely downmix-compatible at all times.
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