Transmission Encoding & MUX Global Viewpoint – November 2015

Audio For ATSC 3.0—It’s Political

According to sources, both Fraunhoffer and Dolby technologies have passed the ATSC 3.0 tests. Both are qualified to be the selected audio standard for the next-generation television broadcast system. So it's now politics.

In a recent article by The Broadcast Bridge writer, Frank Beacham, we learned that a decision on the audio portion of the new broadcast standard is due by the end of this year. It appears the balance is between Fraunhofer's proposed MPEG-H and Dolby's proposed AC-4.

Selecting a standard is not as easy as having a room full of "golden ears" listen to both systems and pick the best. Frankly, the "best" may not even be a consideration. Cost may be the overriding issue.

Decisions made in smoke-filled rooms

Call me a skeptic, but when politics are involved in the making of technical decisions, I expect the worst. Some of you may recall the decision to forgo any last minute testing of COFDM transmissions. After all, a decision had already been made and further tests would merely delay the inevitable choice of the 'best' system. And how did that work out?

Here are the proposed licensing fees proposed by the Fraunhofer, Technicolor and Qualcom as described by Black Stone IP:

MPEG-H TV Audio System Program Pricing

Volume (per complete device with annual reset)

Per complete device fee (in U.S. dollars)

For first 1 to 500,000 units $0.99

For units 500,001 to 1,000,000 $0.76

For units 1,000,001 to 2,000,000 $0.59

For units 2,000,001 to 5,000,000 $0.45

For units 5,000,001 to 10,000,000 $0.35

For units 10,000,001 to 20,000,000 $0.29

For units 20,000,001 to 50,000,000 $0.24

For units 50,000,001 to 75,000,000 $0.18

For units 75,000,001 and more $0.15

I don't pretend to understand what the costs may mean to end customers--other than higher product cost. What I do realize is that it is another example of the customer possibly not getting the better of two technologies because of money-hungry trolls (i.e. licensing) costs.

Making direct cost comparisons based on the above information is impossible. What is "low volume, typical volume, high volume"? You tell me what the licensing costs for AC-4 will be for one-million players.

Roger Charlesworth, an expert on multi-channel audio production for television with experience on several network talk and music shows, said “both of the proposed standards have passed the technical tests. Now it is political. It’s hard to tell how it will go.”

Let me offer a guess on how it will go. For consumers it may go badly.