Wakefield, Yorkshire, UK, March 2010: For decades, German sport on television has been associated with one programme 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 13th 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 upmixing 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 downmixes 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, Bozzeti 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.