Hardware Infrastructure Global Viewpoint – September 2021

Delivering The Immersive Experience

Terms such as the immersive experience seem to be prevalent in today’s media landscape. But what does this mean, and will broadcasters be able to meet the challenge?

Television is an illusion, there are no moving pictures, just a series of still images played very quickly to give the illusion of motion. The interactive nature of how we convince the human visual and auditory systems that moving pictures and sound exists is the essence of television.

There are many reasons why a live acoustic concert sounds more authentic than the recorded equivalent, not least the limitations of loudspeakers and the axial phase responses, but also the response of the human body. Recent research from Imperial College London and the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Germany describes how sound, transmitted through the skull activates the temporal bone to send vibrations into the basilar membranes in the inner ear. A phenomenon known as bone conduction.

With this in mind, it’s entirely possible that the rest of the body is capable of transferring sound vibrations through our skeleton to the skull in a similar fashion. Anybody who has listened to a Bach Fugue played on a true acoustic organ may well have witnessed this, especially if we assume the church is an acoustic extension of the instrument.

Our perceptions are limited to our senses, leading us to only experience a small part of the totality of the universe. The human visual system beautifully demonstrates this as our sight range is limited to a range of 380 to 700nm allowing us to only experience a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. But is it possible that we are able to experience other phenomena through yet undiscovered parts of our anatomy? If so, the concept of the immersive experience is only in its infancy. In the not-too-distant future, we may not just be watching television, but actually experiencing it.

Where does this leave traditional broadcasters? Well, I don’t think we have too much to worry about yet and the much-lauded smell-o-vision promised from my very earliest days of watching television has yet to emerge, but Google researchers are experimenting with headsets that are able to replicate bone conduction, further adding to the potential for increased immersive viewing.

It wasn’t so long ago that sound was just reproduced out of a two-inch loudspeaker situated somewhere on the TV set, and to add insult to injury often faced the wall. Stereo improved the immersive experience and 5.1 brought a new dimension.

So, will we have bone conduction any time soon in broadcasting? Why not? All the components are there to process and transmit it. In our IP world, with data agnostic datagrams and synchronous streams using PTP, adding features to a broadcast chain is much more achievable using the software systems IP and COTS has empowered us to use.