I'm curious how other people are using their channels in creating mixes for television. We've just incorporated 5.1 encoding capabilities in both Dolby Digital and Dolby-E into our workflow in the last year, and we've adopted something similar to the Discovery networks' spec. Here's what we're doing.

The only thing we're putting in the center channels is narration and/or dialogue. If we want to put something else in the middle, we're using a phantom center. Surrounds we reserve primarily for reverb returns from the music and for ambiences. We try to keep most of our activity in the front though. So, if we have an ambience that gets a little busy or distracting coming from the rear channels, we'll move or remove it entirely.

I should mention that we're mostly working on documentaries and docu-dramas, and we do a lot of our sales overseas. That played a large role in the decisions we made. How are you using the surround sound-field, and what factors are feeding your decisions for those choices?

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I have been working very similarly, but that's due to the vast majority of my work being Discovery and National Geographic Film/TV whose QC spec regarding 5.1 are damn near identical. I must say though that in hearing my mixes broadcast, I've become quite disappointed with the surrounds as reverb returns only and have begun using those surround panners as they were originally intended. I have yet to have had music delivered in 5.1 so those reverb returns are still in place, but amb and sfx are starting to get built up more in surround rather than pushed through a verb.

For those who don't know and are in awe of the blasphemous possibility of omitting everything but voice from the discrete center channel, it's in place as an efficiency procedure. Because the vast majority of Discovery and NGTV gets re-broadcast in multiple nations around the world they find it extremely easy to strip out the center channel and insert the new language narration. We have been trying to educate the post-sups that we work with on the benefits of mixing with a discrete center channel vs the phantom center, and how we could get around this perceived cost savings through revisiting the delivery requirements for shows. But it's a long standing beast that has proven results, and probably won't die anytime soon. If you have recommendations for our fight I'd love to hear them.

  • @Steve Urban - Just out of curiosity, how are your monitors configured, and who is doing the encoding. Is it possible that somewhere down the line the surrounds are getting the -3dB "film" treatment? It could even be happening on the broadcast distribution side, which would be wholly disheartening. Jul 20, 2010 at 20:18
  • @Shaun Farley In terms of room position they're set at 0, +- 30 and +- 110 degrees and I believe the output was calibrated at 85SPL - C weighted. I'm encoding Dolby E streams onto HDCAMSR, the Dolby Digital happens on the broadcasting side of things. It's entirely possible that they are getting bumped down in the encoding. Unfortunately I have never had the fortune of discussing it with anyone on the transmission side of things. However, I am happier with my more recent mixes. Jul 20, 2010 at 20:33
  • @Steve Urban It's good that you've been able to hear your mixes after broadcast. I'm not so lucky in that regard. lol Out of curiosity do you guys have an LM100 that you run it through before providing the deliverables, or do you wait for a response from the broadcaster's QC? Jul 21, 2010 at 0:35
  • @Shaun Farley - Oh the LM100. The LM100 is a bit of a sticking point around the office here. I'd love to know what my dialnorm is as I mix, I'd even settle for before I layback, or after I deliver. I'm trying desperately (in vain) to convince the buying powers that be that an LM100 or the Dolby Media Meter 2 would be a valuable tool. But I haven't been kicked back for Dialnorm yet using just the Dorroughs and the LEQa meter on Digi's PhaseScope, so it falls on deaf, budget-minded ears. Jul 21, 2010 at 13:34
  • @Steve Urban Yeah, I was able to slip one into the budget under the radar out here when we were building out this new facility. All the the other technical people over here, including the supervisors, think that audio is voodoo. So, my coworker can get away with a lot. Honestly, we hadn't really bought any audio gear in years. So, we threw the kitchen sink in for this new joint. They said ok. Lucky us. Jul 21, 2010 at 19:17

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