SURROUND: THE NEXT STEP
5.1: It's here. It's now. And with an increasing number ofconsumers climbing aboard the home theater bandwagon, there'sactually a (potential) audience for audio-only DVD releases. Thereare some hurdles to overcome, but overall, the industry is makingsignificant progress.
One problem is the limited number of DVD-A capable players inthe market. Right now, they're expensive, although this situationhas been improving. Given the small percentage of DVD-A players,savvy producers have been including DTS and/or Dolby Digital mixeson most discs, so the consumer can buy product now and enjoy thesurround experience — even if they aren't listening to DVD-A.Of course, a couple years down the road, when most DVD decks areDVD-A-compliant, this will become a moot point.
Unfortunately, creating several mixes of each productcomplicates the production process, but here again, there are somegood signs. Both Dolby and DTS have been selling encoder/decoderhardware for some time, and more recently, companies such as Kindof Loud and Minnetonka have offered software for DTS and DolbyDigital encoding. Checking reference surround mixes outside theconfines of a control room's optimized listening space is littlemore complicated than burning some DTS or Dolby Digital tracks on a50-cent CD-R and tossing it into the DVD player in a home system.One caveat here is the unfortunate fact that some home DVD playersdon't recognize CD-Rs, so a pre-purchase checkout with a home-brewdisc is important when selecting a DVD player for home referenceuse.
One production snag is the plethora of mixdown formats used forstoring surround mixes. At least with stereo, the choices wererelatively few (i.e., DAT, ½-inch analog, ¼-inch analog,etc.), but with 5.1 mixes, just about anything goes, such as Genex,ADAT or DA-88 (with or without bit-splitting) and just about anyimaginable variation of data storage media; the list is seeminglyendless. In this issue, Paul Verna talks to top engineers,producers and mastering pros about how they're handling thesituation.
On the studio hardware side of surround production, things aredefinitely on the upswing. Michael Cooper takes a look at 28consoles designed specifically for surround mixing, focusing onmodels that include full multichannel panning, busing andmonitoring functions. Not everybody is ready to take the plungeinto a full-on multiformat mixer, so there is also a healthy marketof third-party accessories — such as surround monitorcontrollers, panners and routers — that expand thefunctionality of existing consoles and may buy a couple more yearsof life for that board you currently have.
We've had a few changes at Mix this month. Our artdirector, Tim Gleason, who was a major force behind the look ofMix for more than 20 years, is no longer with our company,and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
Also, you might notice a new icon on some of our new-productpages this month. We are debuting Demo Rooms, offering streamingvideo information about products and technologies. Check them outat www.mixonline.com. And theAES convention returns to Amsterdam — everybody's favoritecity — May 12-15. If you're in town, stop by the Mixbooth and say hello.
See you there!