althoug broadcast platforms It is an alternative to cinema. The films or series available on it are watched in different circumstances and often at different times. For example, in blocks of apartments during night hours. In this context, sound levels can be an issue if we witness a production with gunfire or explosions. Obviously, these effects are higher with Netflix than with dialogues. Especially for movies or dubbed productions. The world’s largest streaming service doesn’t want to comment on the matter.
The situation is completely different with HBO Max, which debuted on the Polish market on March 8 this year. In this app for Android TV / Google TV, both the voiceover and the sound effect are much quieter than in the case of other services. – We deliver audio in accordance with the material received and in the manner most suitable for the habits and expectations of viewers, as well as according to broadcast standards. – Explains Wirtualnemedia.pl Agnieszka Niburska, Director of Public Relations at HBO Max EMEA. The best solution to this problem is to allow users to set dialog size and fx for themselves. Then residents of single-family homes, characteristic of the middle class in the US, where platforms come in, can play louder. However, this is not the case with streaming services.
Streaming services are not subject to audio standards
Where do the differences in sound levels come from? – The loudness differences between platforms are due to the different technical specifications that the platforms adopt for loudness. In the case of channels, the applied loudness standard is the EBU R128 standard, which recommends target sound quality for the so-called integrated level-23 LUFS. Without going into the technical aspects, the goal is to make the impression of loudness between individual programs and TV channels the same. Therefore, when changing TV channels, we should not feel any jumps in size. While When it comes to streaming platforms, it can be said that there is a “free American”, which in practice we had to deal with before the TV had to use the R128 sound level standard – Jakub Jamrożek, Sound Director, and co-owner of Mastergroove Studios, tells Wirtualnemedia.pl.
The owner of HBO Max also owns linear channels: HBO, HBO2 and HBO3. When creating a streaming service, it depends on their experience. Netflix has no experience creating TV stations. Only a few years ago, these sounds were intentionally louder during commercials that would have been heard when visiting the kitchen or toilet during a break in production.
– Every channel tried to be the loudest, and the commercials were sized so you could hear them in all rooms of the house. Streaming platforms are under no obligation to implement the above standard, and if they do, it is for practical reasons. HBO also owns Line TV channels, so the audio tracks available on the platform and their channels are most likely set to the same. Netflix is clearly louder and has its own specification that determines the volume. In the case of YouTube, I know nothing about whether there is any standard that defines the size – Jamrujic explains.
Sound straight from the cinema
The development of broadcasting has led to the fact that websites are multiplying and trying to deliver the first productions as quickly as possible. It is not always fully compatible with the operation of the TV. Sometimes the audio tracks are almost transcribed from the theatrical version of the film.
– The problem is sometimes a matter of wrong proportions between the layers of dialogue, music, and effects in the mix. This is especially true for dubbed movies, but not only. I suspect the vast majority of the problematic titles are those for which the studio has prepared a cinematic mix. These mixes have completely different dynamics – that is, the range of sounds that are softer and louder. This is due to the characteristics of the performance experience in the cinema – in the cinema we are interested in the largest possible dynamic range in order to increase the sound experience of the viewer. In the case of television or watching movies from streaming services on a TV, such huge dynamics are undesirable – the co-owner of Mastergroove Studios assesses.
Sometimes companies that deal with preparing for the broadcast of a particular movie or series deal with several productions per day. This makes it difficult to properly prepare the audio version. Of course, the platforms are making efforts to bring the cinema mix into the audio capabilities of consumer devices. However, such an operation must be carried out with due diligence, which, as you hear, is sometimes missing. With that much content that platforms have to provide to viewers, mishaps happen. In any case, a lot also depends on the equipment that the viewer has. Some people watch movies on TV and listen to them through the built-in speakers, while others have spacious home theater systems, soundbars, and other equipment. All of these components have a huge impact on the final audio experience – Jamrożek notes.
“No standards even within one website”
Justyna Troszczyńska, founder and CEO of Media4Fun, a film advisory agency, points out that early streaming services started hitting the market even before the era of Android TV or any other operating system. – Options for using video-on-demand services began with the typical described consumption, where despite sharing content in stereo formats, most devices were adapted to mono audio. Along with the development of broadcast technology in the country, the sites have tried to increase the quality of the material presented, both in terms of sound and image. Whereas the visibility gradation was very simple, because the increase in image resolution is one-way, the sound has become an arena for the performance of individual platforms. There are many variables in this category … From the quality in which the film was recorded, to the material provided by the distributor, to the specific technical specifications of the audio-visual material accepted by a particular service – Troszczyńska evaluates in an interview with Wirtualnemedia.pl.
Although the streaming services are gaining popularity thanks to the exclusive content, they are also using the production of several third party partners. – On each platform we can meet with differences in the final audio depending on the selected video. There is only one platform and there are many content providers. Some will adapt to their technical requirements, others will not. Some sound studios for original productions will meet the lowest reference range, others – the highest. And even enjoy endless fun on this carousel. Remember that there is another aspect, for example, TV series that hit the platform immediately after TV broadcasting and it is not possible to adapt them to the needs of Internet broadcasting, so they retain their TV parameters – a representative of Media4Fun notes.
According to the expert, the solution would be to introduce the possibility of manually adjusting the soundtrack. Today, when most of the movement has moved from desktops to new generation televisions, where sound is widely distributed, we may have the impression that we are selective deaf. Compared to advertising on Polsat, where while quietly watching the movie, our ears are suddenly attacked with “waterfall power” pads. The lack of standards and downward regulation of volume levels on different platforms, and even within a single service, can be very annoying, but it certainly also affects user satisfaction and the decision to continue subscribing. Standardizing technical specifications or introducing the possibility of manually adjusting the subtitled volume level (not the original movie track!) would certainly balance the competition between sites in terms of the technical quality of the material, and give the viewer the expected comfort of consuming content – argues Troszczyńska.
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