Sound at the BBC Television Center (part 9)
You can adopt a few basic rules of thumb really. You can divide programmes on television into two kinds. There is one kind in which there is an arena or stage with a presentation going on which the audience is looking at. Most light entertainment and most outside broadcast programmes are like this, you know the event is happening in front of you and you are looking at it from the audiences point of view. If you set up a stereo picture to match that, then even when they take close ups of parts of the action, or cut ins or whatever, you dont need to change it because your brain knows where everything is, and once in a while you will come back to a wide shot and see the geography anyway. Then theres the other kind which is typical of a drama presentation in which the viewers point of view changes with the camera angle as it moves from set to set, or from one part of the set to another part of the set and then you have to move the stereo viewpoint to go with it. At times, if you do that slavishly you will produce some jarring results, so we have a rule that if what you are doing is arguing with the picture then what you are doing is wrong. My view is that of the two senses of vision and hearing, vision is the stronger one, so if you do something that is different from what the picture is doing your brain says the sound is wrong. It doesnt matter if you did it first or if you are actually right, your brain says the sound is wrong so dont do it! We do occasionally get ourselves into the position where the pictures are doing things that would have us jumping around all over the place, so then we may just quietly collapse the sound into mono, with a little bit of atmosphere around it, for a while until the difficult bit has passed and then spread it back into stereo again. That is less disturbing than being slavishly stereo.
The BBC has always been at the forefront of broadcasting technology, so its logical for the Head of Sound at Television Centre to be thinking of future developments.
The next major development is some kind of wide screen television and five channel sound to go with it. All the proposals from SMPTE, from the EBU and CCIR, say the future will be five channels, three front and two surround. That will be the maximum standard. What everybody is talking about is a family of standards where you can have from five channel right down to mono, all the variations are possible. The transmission will carry in some coded form sufficient information to allow you to listen in whatever format you like depending on how you set your television or what its able to do. Although theres no argument about five channels as an acoustic idea, the real study now is how it can be coded onto a carrier system that can be interpreted at the receivers. A lot of people think that five channels will never be acceptable and average Joe Public who has enough trouble getting his wife to accept two loudspeakers for stereo is going to have a hard time with five, but I suspect it wont be like that. If you look at the majority of the proposals, the television receiver will act as a centre channel anyway so you have only got two outriggers, and if you want rear channels you will have small loudspeakers mounted on brackets somewhere. People who want the ultimate will do that, a great many more people would just have mono, stereo or three channel. That seems to be the way its going and Im looking forward to it. What we then have to do which is more fascinating and a real potential headache is to develop post production mixing techniques that will allow us to produce five channel sound which is downward compatible in all those ways - without spending any more time or money on it!