Immersive Made Easy: MDA technology simplifies audio mixes


Advancements in technology, market competition and consumer expectations continue to drive enhancements to the theatrical experience. Digital cinema has taken images to higher frame rates, increased resolutions, High Dynamic Range and 3D, bringing new creative tools to filmmakers and more compelling experiences to theatregoers.

With the transition to digital cinema, 5.1-channel audio became the dominant soundtrack format for cinema, the same surround-sound technology that DTS helped pioneer with the release of Jurassic Park in 1993.

Eventually 5.1 evolved to enhanced audio presentations by adding more channels, first with 6.1, then to 7.1 and 11.1 formats. While these channel-based formats were fun and added to the experience, it also meant that the sound engineer had to create a separate mix for each channel configuration and for each exhibition distribution format. This tedious process added time, cost and confusion.

Enter object-based audio technology. As the number of potential locations for speaker placement multiplies, next-generation sound systems are taking advantage of object-based audio that produces an entire multi-dimensional sound field rather than just a fixed, channel-based surround audio mix with traditional speaker locations. Object audio can provide a number of solutions for creators and exhibitors alike, one of them being a multi-dimensional presentation of the audio that goes beyond surround sound for a more immersive cinematic sound experience–and has much more flexibility.

This latest audio technology approach, which includes speakers placed high on the theatre walls and/or on the ceiling, in addition to current surround layouts, enables spatial placement of audio sources to create a compelling new audio environment that draws audiences deeper into the experience of the film. It allows filmmakers to move sound objects behind, above and beside the audience to most accurately match the sounds to what’s occurring on the screen. Exhibitors can now offer their audience the most compelling experience possible, available only in the theatre.

A key driver in this new era of sound is MDA, DTS’ royalty-free, open platform for object-based audio. From the time of its inception, the goal of MDA has been to offer creators and exhibitors the power to control costs with minimal impact to workflow, choices in tools, and preservation of artistic intent from the mix stage to the audience and provide the same high-quality sound to a wide range of playback systems from a single deliverable.

MDA provides the industry a methodology to create, export, author, store and render immersive cinema sound in a format that transcends closed prescriptive proprietary systems. As such, the industry now has a format that offers uncompressed PCM objects plus metadata that can be as universally accepted—and as easy and common to work  with—as PCM channel-based audio is now.

The MDA approach provides unprecedented creative capability with normal cinematic workflow that does not require special proprietary equipment or services. This offers immediate time and cost savings and ensures that archived assets are accessible in the future in a non-proprietary asset. Over the long term, MDA also gives content owners a potential archive format that is as future-proof as PCM currently is.

MDA serves as a cornerstone of DTS:X. Introduced by DTS earlier this year, DTS:X is not tied to a prescribed speaker layout or a specific number of audio channels. DTS offers theatre owners the opportunity to provide their audiences with the most compelling, immersive sound experience possible through the DTS:X cinema licensing program. This program allows for DTS:X playback in almost any room configuration via the installation of DTS:X-approved equipment that processes and renders MDA files when also working within the recommended speaker installation guidelines.

MDA tools are designed within today’s existing audio workflows, placing creative control with the content owner while simplifying the downstream distribution of object-based audio to authoring facilities and content services to the highest standards of quality and productivity. Currently, the DTS MDA Creator Tool is installed at more than 20 mixing stages in the U.S. and Canada.

To meet the high expectations of consumers in the new era of high-definition content, studios and sound engineers need an easy, yet robust, way to deliver immersive experiences. MDA technology is an important contribution to meeting this demand.

Exclusive to Film Journal International