Krueger: "Standardization has always been something of an issue in this industry. In the surround world there's no real standard, just suggestions, as far as setting up the surrounds, and there's a variance in the suggested roll off frequencies. In terms of post for TV, the standard that goes with HD is Dolby E Stream, and I hope it stays that way."
Owsinski: "A couple of issues are consumer oriented. One is the placement of the rear speakers at home: Do you have room to place them where it makes sense, and what do you do with the wires? Some consumer electronics manufacturers are coming out with wireless technology that will help solve that. Another issue is people's perception that if you don't have the speakers placed exactly right you won't get any enjoyment out of the 5.1 system. But placement is not nearly as critical as people perceive. In reality, you can place [speakers] rather haphazardly, and as long as they are calibrated correctly, you'll still get an enhanced sense of enjoyment.
"A third issue starts in the studio, and that's a misunderstanding of how to calibrate the monitor system. The problem almost always exists with how the subwoofer is calibrated. There's a lot of documentation available on how to do it - we have a detailed procedure on our Web site - but people can still be confused by the concept. As a result, you have subwoofer levels all over the map on most DVD releases.
"And, lastly, no matter how careful we are with the audio on our end when we hand it over for DVD authoring, it can be mangled in ways you can't imagine. Usually the audio person at the authoring facility is the low man on the totem pole. He's just listening for major flaws. I've frequently been appalled upon going into a so-called authoring QC room and finding things like the center speaker not connected, the system uncalibrated or out of phase, or the speakers spread out so far that you can't get a reasonable idea of what you're hearing. So flaws can be introduced downline after we finish our job, and that's one of the reasons we moved into encoding our final product rather than letting someone else do it.
"Another major issue is that sometimes we're only given control of the main element of the title, like mixing the concert, but we don't do the other elements like the menu music or the audio commentary or other additional features, so the levels are all over the place. Just to make sure the title is as consistent as possible, we'll even discount our rates to be able to control the quality of all of it. Recently we've gone into producing extra elements too like videotaping interviews, recording commentary tracks, and even some DVD authoring."
Post: Is there any specific surround gear you'd like to see introduced?
Recker: "I'm 100 percent into Pro Tools, and one thing I really miss is being able to pan sound in the surround field in slo-mo or frame by frame. It has to be in realtime, so you can't get those really fast zips. Yes, you can start editing the automation, but it is a bit cumbersome. It would be so cool if I could click the picture a frame at a time and slowly move the joy stick. Other than that, I'm very happy with the technology now. It makes everything easier and more efficient, and you have so much more control over the process so you can concentrate on the end product."
Weir: "I'd like to see more and better options for software encoders for workstations, especially my Pro Tools. Dolby wants you to buy their gear, but that's an expensive proposition when you're not doing 5.1 every day. Ultimately more people will do 5.1 mixes if it's easier to show clients what they sound like when they're encoded and played back over consumer set-ups right in the mix room. I haven't seen many 5.1 dynamics plug-ins, and they'd be useful. Also, 5.1 outboard meters aren't real common yet, and I'd like to see more true 5.1 reverbs or room modelers so we can start using surround to emulate real environments and not just for 'wow' effect and spacey applications."
Tomasic: "We'd like to see more surround-capable plug-ins we could use in sessions. It would be nice to have a larger variety of them for our two Pro Tools studios."
Fleischman: "Right now I have all the tools I need, but now that I've said that I'm sure someone will come up with a new idea!"
Krueger: "Our three rooms have killer Pro Tools systems with ProControl surfaces, manual panners, great MultiMax monitor control and Dolby encoding gear. We have a lot of gear and are pretty well set now."
Owsinski: "Our three major studios and two edit bays are now all 5.1 and 6.1 capable, but when we started in 1998 there were no tools at all; everything was pretty much jerry-rigged. Gradually the needed tools were developed and are now pretty commonplace, but they're still evolving and, like everything, could be improved. Sometimes, because a project doesn't have the budget for our big studios or because they're booked, we use the Pro Tools and Steinberg Nuendo rigs in our edit bays for mixing - with excellent results. These days, DAWs all come pretty standard with surround features like surround panning and bussing, but for the most part there's no facility to monitor directly from the application, so you still have to go to an outboard monitoring device, which shouldn't be needed in this day and age. And speaking of monitor controllers, some sound terrific but don't have the required features while others have the features but don't sound so good. I'd like to have something that combines great sound with the great features."
Post: What's your forecast for the evolution of surround?
Recker: "The big evolution in the next two or three years will be the continued migration to HD, and that means all mixes will be in the 5.1 format. Businesses like ours have to make a big financial investment in D-5 HD machines because we'll be requiring laybacks to a D-5 master. The cinema mixes I'm doing now are mostly finished on film, but that's already changing; in three to five years most theaters will be equipped with HD projectors and film will evaporate from the exhibition chain."
Weir: "It's here to stay. In my business, as more broadcast programming is done in surround, the chances increase that commercial breaks will keep you in the same world. Advertisers won't want it to sound like things have shrunk when you go to their commercials. 7.1 surround is definitely a cinema format, designed for the size of that environment, so I'm not all that concerned about re-creating it in my living room just yet."
Tomasic: "We're looking forward to 7.1; we're set up for it. I think 7.1 it will become an integral part of our everyday recording and listening experience. It's the next frontier!"
Fleischman: "A few years ago, Dolby introduced a three-channel Surround system, Dolby EX, which I used on Mission to Mars. I don't think it's caught on in a big way. If there's a specific reason to have a three-channel soundscape behind the audience it works nicely, but most film applications don't really call for it. I don't think 7.1 has caught on either for theatrical films. It takes a fairly large capital investment for mix facilities and theaters to convert for it, and I'm not sure if the benefits justify the expense."
Krueger: "The current challenge is to get the consumer to appreciate and desire 5.1 surround. I think that's happening with the introduction of surround in cars: that's how the CD happened! Now we need the equivalent to that in the home. I think it will start with DVD-A with high-resolution audio, no video. And the mandate for TV stations to go digital will push them to include surround. We're wired for 7.1 surround but it's really suited to large theater venues; it would be too overwhelming and costly for consumers."
Owsinski: "Five-point-one hasn't progressed at nearly the rate we all anticipated. I'm chairman of the annual Surround Conference, which first started in 1999, and we thought back then that in a year or two 5.1 would be widespread with mass acceptance. We were sadly wrong in our prediction, but in the last year the pace has quickened a lot, and now 5.1 has become a fairly standard feature that consumers expect. As for the future, we've demonstrated 6.1 and even 10.2 formats and beyond and how they enhance the sonic enjoyment level. But consumers who have just become aware of 5.1 are not going to be moving along to something else anytime soon. Thankfully, we won't be needing to update our studios again for a while."