World radio day is an opportunity to look at how advances in audio engineering are still shaping our lives. A revolutionary new technology called object-based audio could help people with disabilities as well as each one of us become more engaged with various media platforms.
Object-based audio can be used to make sound more immersive, interactive and personalized. It relies on a new generation encoder that inserts special object-based metadata in each audio track. The metadata identifies each track as an object that can be personalized.
The benefits of the new technology should first be reaped by the hearing impaired or the blind. The technology will enable them to increase the volume of each separate dialogue track in order to hear them better.
Object-based audio could be a boon for all of us, as well. Imagine watching a football match on television and wanting to immerse yourself in the sound coming from the stadium and the fans but without hearing the football match commentators. The new technology will enable you to select what you want.
Project Orpheus is one of several forward thinking research endeavours financed by the European Union (EU), as part of its Horizon 2020 programme, a research and innovation plan with nearly EUR 80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020).
Shaping the future
BBC R&D’s first pilot using the technology was the Mermaid’s tears, an interactive audio drama that was created on its IP Studio platform, which is based on low-cost commodity IT hardware and enables researchers to control and process multiple audio channels using custom software.
The listener can choose which character he wants to follow and his home device mixes the audio for whichever character he wants to listen to. No actual mixing takes place in the studio. The BBC researchers developed a custom audio control interface which generates a stream of metadata which describes the sound mix for each character.
IEC on board
The R&D team is developing a new standard for audio-streaming, which it calls serialized Audio Definition Model (ADM) and which was used to transmit the metadata that describes the mix for each character on the Mermaid’s tears. It works with the IEC and other standardization organizations to produce this new specification. It notably refers to ISO/IEC 23008-3 and ISO/IEC 23009.