The BBC Proms 2015 in Quad

17 Jul

Yet again the BBC will be broadcasting ‘experimental’ quadraphonic broadcasts from this years proms here in the UK. It looks as though nothing has changed, you still need to use ‘Chrome’ as before. Hopefully there won’t be as many technical issues this time round,and the sound quality improves, some of last years broadcasts weren’t exactly a good advert for the experiment.

More info here

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35 Responses to “The BBC Proms 2015 in Quad”

  1. Beechwoods (@Beechwoods_) July 18, 2015 at 09:18 #

    Not sure if the link to the 2015 4.0 live stream is that obvious in the article you posted, OD, which seemed to be written in 2014. The following link will take you straight to the page, and advise when the next live stream is due to start:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/taster/projects/proms-surround-sound

  2. Beechwoods (@Beechwoods_) July 18, 2015 at 08:58 #

    This sounds lovely. I’ve only listened to the ‘Test’ stream at the moment, and will make a note to myself to catch one of the live broadcasts.

    I have a MacBook running OSX Yosemite, with a Firepower FCA 610 audio interface (external soundcard) which I have configured for 4-channel playback. Chrome on OSX worked straight out of the box for me. I had to tweak the speaker connections to the soundcard to pass the rears to the right speaker (my default setup routes the rears to channels 3+4 on my soundcard, the BBC stream has the rears routed to channels 5+6 and it looks like this isn’t altered by the OSX channel routing config in Audio Midi Speaker Setup).

    I thought the examples in the BBC test stream were nicely active – pretty exciting to be honest, certainly not just ambience in the rears.

    I can’t really understand why these broadcasts are so experimental – I guess because the BBC can’t warrant the mix quality on live broadcasts because they’re doing them on the fly, but if the BBC standard is to capture on four channel and mix down to stereo, it wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with some basic set it and forget it mix settings that would make it easy.

    I don’t mind the fact that we have to use Chrome and HTML 5 – it’s not too much to ask that someone uses a specific free browser to access this content. I have Chrome, Safari and Firefox on my machine anyway because different sites work better with different browsers, and I like to keep my main browser (Safari) free of extensions I might want to use occasionally, which are there on my other browser installations.

    It’s a shame the content is still ‘lossy’. I do wonder when the BBC will cotton on to FLAC streaming. At least as an option. Many people have broadband fast enough to stream FLAC. I have no idea of streaming FLAC supports multi-channel though…

    • oxforddickie July 18, 2015 at 09:12 #

      The BBC have always tagged things they won’t committ to as ‘Experimental’. Things like transmitting in 3D and of course the quad broadcasts in the late 70’s.

      I doubt they would consider using Flac, it would be too easy, they like to complicate things and make a right hash of them, as they did with Matrix H/HJ. There really was no need for such Frankenstein matrix systems apart from them saying, ‘Look what we can do – create a system that is impossible to decode properly’

      They never learn…. Sigh!

    • Em² July 18, 2015 at 12:00 #

      Flac supports multi channel streaming, I believe if put in the right container format but that’s probably not part of the technology the Beeb are using online right now for surround via a web page which adapts the aac bitrate you get at home to the bandwidth available to the listener which is probably seen, long term as a more adaptable technology even if right now it’s flying in the face of accepted current methods of delivery surround sound.
      As somebody with less than perfect hearing these days I’m typically less able to detect lossless over a well mastered compressed stream (I know, don’t start that old argument. All I can say is Tidal’s lossles stream music test is the best advert as to why I won’t be paying for that service but that’s just my hearing.
      Clearly many others have more discernable hearing than me.I envy them and mourn my own loss in that department) but understand that many audiophiles want it and genuinely rate it. Last year’s Proms output online in terms of surround was variable (I caught most of them. Great fun. Loved the sound stream left running at the end of each concert as everyone left and the riggers cleared up).

      Last year some productions surround wise were better than others I felt (The Pet Shop Boys outing probably being the most ‘Meh’ surround wise) but the results varied across the season. An ongoing test. The demo they’ve chosen for this year is certainly at the better end of the example spectrum.

  3. sacdtodvda July 18, 2015 at 05:58 #

    Just for anyone getting concerned about the references to “special equipment” and “super computers”, last year I was able to get the test signal working perfectly on my wife’s bog-standard Windows 8 Toshiba Satellite laptop with HDMI output. The only trick was installing the Realtek audio card drivers. Although the Realtek card was physically present the machine was set to the standard Windows drivers. Once installed the Realtek reproduced the four speaker test signals including the phantom centre perfectly regardless of whether I selected the 4.0 or 5.1 options.

    I haven’t tested it this year to see if there is any change because I have a slight cold at the moment and I am not allowed near the wife let alone her laptop.

    I haven’t been able to experience an actual concert as I am not prepared to get up at 5:00am in the middle of winter to do so.

    • oxforddickie July 18, 2015 at 06:22 #

      Well, it’s good to hear that a humble laptop enabled you to listen to the broadcasts. It’s a shame there’s no way of ‘time-recording’ these broadcasts for those around the world.

      A short report on the broadcast. Because of the problems i had in getting Windows 7 to co-operate i missed the begining of the broadcast and i had to monitor it in Mono!! How ironic LOL

      There was one major technical issue when the broadcast dissapeared for a minute or so during the first piece. I’m hoping to set the computer up in place of Workhorse III later today so will be able to listen to the recording.

      I found that ‘Audacity‘ made recording the broadcast easier than any other software once set to 16/48.

    • Owen Smith July 18, 2015 at 11:47 #

      So did you get it working OD, playing 4.0 correctly from the main board rear panel audio outputs? Was there some optional Settings window that set up the speaker layout? I’ve seen one of those before.

      Interesting that Audacity records it best, I like Audacity myself. Is that a 4.0 channel recording?

      • oxforddickie July 18, 2015 at 14:10 #

        Have just returned from my Charity stint and haven’t managed to listen to the recording and may not until some time Sunday.

        There was another hidden control panel and it’s lucky i set it to quad as i’ve not been able to access it since. Odd!

        Audacity appears to have the ability to record from an internal sound card built into it, and it ‘looks’ as though it works reasonably well, i was able to see the four channel waveforms as it was recording.

        The BBC state they are broadcasting in 4.0 and not quad, perhaps using the ‘Q’ word brings back too many bad memories LOL

  4. Em² July 17, 2015 at 19:35 #

    It’s fairly straightforward on Linux and Macs. Linux multichannel works with pulse audio (Alsa & OSS with the right setups though I’ll admit HDMI on linux is often a pig-analogue outputs are less headache inducing but depends on your hardware) and Macs just need to change their sound to the soundflower (16ch) audio option. Both of which allow multichannel recording to disc if needed.Windows sadly, I’m less familiar with.

  5. Em² July 17, 2015 at 16:49 #

    Will wait and see if this year will be more than the feint hall ambiance for the two rear channels that made up a lot of last year’s experience . The radio plays were a better use, I felt. It was intriguing how the 4.0 Proms mix compared the any HD TV 5.1 broadcast version last year and it looks like we’ll get more TV coverage this year than last. At least they’re still experimenting despite the ongoing cutbacks and baying for the BBC’s demise. Yes it’s a shame that the technology is only supported on chrome and its variants. That’s life.

  6. Owen Smith July 17, 2015 at 16:07 #

    I still don’t have the equipment to listen to this. There is loads of spare bandwidth on Freeview HD multiplex COM8, a 4.0 audio only channel wouldn’t even begin to touch the spare bandwidth available on here (there are two TV channels on a mux that can accomodate 5 or 6 in HD). OK so COM8 can only be received by 70% of the UK population, and then you have to consider who has a Freeview HD receiver connected to a home cinema amp. But it’s probably still several orders of magnitude more people than can recieve what they’re actually doing over the internet.

    • oxforddickie July 17, 2015 at 16:14 #

      It is annoying that the BBC hasn’t made any move to make these broadcasts to the British license paying via either Freeview or say via the Red Button on Freesat. Instead they are persevering with sharing the Proms with anyone lucky enough to have exactly the right equipment.

      I shall try it on the new ‘Super’ Computer (again, thanks Owen), the annoying thing is it appears that after a year the only compatible browser is the over bloated ‘Chrome’.

      • Owen Smith July 17, 2015 at 18:43 #

        For those wondering what we’re talking about, a friend’s employer got rid of an old Lenovo ThinkStation S20: 12GB DDR3 1066 MHz triple channel ECC RAM, Win 7 64 bit Professional, Xeon W3550 3.06GHz quad core cpu with 8MB L3 cache, 7200rpm hybrid SATA drive and other high speed goodness. I was able to obtain this for OD to use to speed up his decoding compared to his glacial speed Pentium 4 machines. The main board multi channel audio is a complete bonus, assuming it can be made to work.

        • sacdtodvda July 18, 2015 at 05:44 #

          Where is that Like button?

    • Owen Smith July 17, 2015 at 17:12 #

      I’m not sure what multichannel audio output there is on that computer that works. DVD-D on the graphics card probably doesn’t support audio and there is no HDMI output. Possibly your best chance is the mainboard 5.1 audio analogue out on three 3.5mm stereo mini jacks.

      • Owen Smith July 17, 2015 at 17:13 #

        I meant DVI-D on the graphics card…

      • oxforddickie July 17, 2015 at 17:23 #

        I’m looking into the issue of it only coming up as stereo rather 5.1, suspect Windows 7 took the only option it had and installed basic stereo drivers?

      • Owen Smith July 17, 2015 at 17:35 #

        I ignored the audio because I knew you’d be putting your PCI capture card in. You may be able to find multi channel drivers for Windows 7 for the motherboard, but I don’t have any. Searching for “ThinkSation S20 audio drivers” finds loads but none stand out as being particularly legitimate.

        • oxforddickie July 17, 2015 at 17:42 #

          I found the drivers that are to replace the generic Windows 7 drivers but it’s still stereo. Odd, 5.1 sound but only stereo option. Oh well, was worth a try

        • Owen Smith July 17, 2015 at 17:50 #

          There must be a way of doing it, the rear panel is labelled with all the channel positions for a 7.1 audio system.

          • oxforddickie July 17, 2015 at 18:08 #

            Yes, but having installed the official drivers it still only gives output as stereo. Will spend a few more minutes on it

          • Owen Smith July 17, 2015 at 18:16 #

            There may be a settings window which configureds the channels that are available.

            At least the PC is man enough to run Chrome without breaking sweat.

            • oxforddickie July 17, 2015 at 18:30 #

              I’ve found a hidden app that allows the sound stage to be configured, and yes it does appear to be running it without a problem

            • Owen Smith July 17, 2015 at 18:34 #

              What’s the hidden app called? It may benefit other people if the same app does the job for them.

              So are you now getting correct quad sound from the mainboard analogue outputs?

              • oxforddickie July 17, 2015 at 18:42 #

                Am busy trying to get this working, will answer later

    • sacdtodvda July 18, 2015 at 06:04 #

      If it was broadcast over Freeview, what would the quality be there in the UK? Over here the HD channels broadcast surround sound in Dolby.

      • Owen Smith July 18, 2015 at 11:34 #

        Audio on Freeview HD channels is AAC, in bit rates at least as high as 320kbps. At times it sounds fantastic, when they broadcast films it’s easy to compare vs. the lossless audio from Blu Ray and while not as good it stands up a lot better than Dolby Digital ever did.

        Oddly on satellite in the UK (Freesat or Sky) the audio on HD channels is Dolby Digital. You get the bizarre situation of the picture being better from satellite due to higher hit rates, but the audio being worse due to Dolby Digital (and them not throwing a shed load of bit rate at it to compensate)

      • Em² July 18, 2015 at 12:07 #

        I’m not sure if this has changed but originaly satellite/Freesat 5.1 was stated to be Dolby Digital whilst Freeview surround uses HE-AAC due to lack of available bandwidth.

        • sacdtodvda July 21, 2015 at 01:14 #

          Thank you both for that information. I will reserve my rant on how the networks here squander their HD channels.

        • Owen Smith July 21, 2015 at 11:17 #

          On Freeview HD at the moment the main 2.0/5.1 (depending on programme) audio is AAC-LC. The audio described for visually impaired stream is AAC-HE (not sure whether 2.0 or 1.0) and if enabled is combined with the main audio digitally before conversion to LPCM over HDMI or whatever is used for playback. Home cinema amps generally can’t handle AAC streams.

          In my case my amp doesn’t handle HDMI audio. I have to use optical out from my Freeview HD set top box/hard disc recorder. This means it converts the AAC audio to Dolby Digital, but at least it does so at 640kbps which is the absolute maximum that works in the Dolby Digital standard. Most boxes either don’t convert at all and output AAC over optical (which almost no amps can handle) or convert to Dolby Digital at 640kbps like mine, it’s all part of the Dolby Pulse codec that manufacturers can licence and get all of the source code from one place. I did hear of a box that was going to convert the AAC to DTS which would have been better, but it never made it to market alas. With so many amps handling LPCM over HDMI audio I can’t see the DTS conversion being much of a selling point.

          • Em² July 21, 2015 at 12:37 #

            Thanks for that detailed info Owen. Interesting stuff. I’d assumed the Freeview AAC would have needed to be transcoded on the fly when fed into an AV amp but wasn’t quite sure into what. It’s the problem with hardware boxes where updating them isn’t quite as easy as an entirely computer based method of accessing the same programming. It’s a shame the 5.1 option isn’t there in the iPlayer HD programme archive too.

          • Owen Smith July 21, 2015 at 14:24 #

            The Freeview SD audio also needs transcoding on the fly since that is MPEG1 layer 2 (MP2). But since it is stereo only, the transcoding is to LPCM for both HDMI and optical so it’s something most people don’t even think of as transcoding.

            Yes iPlayer is a problem. People keep talking about how great iPlayer is on HD and how the future of TV is over broadband. But this ignores key facts, like even the best iPlayer HD stream is lower resolution and lower bit rate video than broadcast (using the same H.264 codec) and the audio is stereo only no 5.1. And then you find half the UK population has broadband too slow to stream even the best of what is currently available now never mind any improvement we’d like.

            • Em² July 21, 2015 at 15:41 #

              Yes all less than ideal as clearly IP TV is the future what with Netflix,Amazon,NowTV and the like. I see BT announced the cost of their 4K resolution TV service the other day and as you say considering the variability over the speeds that many in the UK experience I’m assuming that has to be delivered exclusively via fibre. Isn’t Dolby Atmos part of the 4K spec (or DTS:X?). Too niche?

            • Owen Smith July 21, 2015 at 16:16 #

              I don’t know about 4K specs with regard to audio. I do know that BT will only supply their 4K service to customers with Fibre (Fibre To The Cabinet for most of the UK).

              • Em² July 21, 2015 at 17:30 #

                No I’m not up with the specs really. I seem to remember Netflix saying they’ll support Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 in their 4K stream offerings but I’m a long way off owning an Atmos enabled amp/speakers…er..ceiling.Haven’t even heard an encoded film/demo let alone any music soundtracks encoded and played back this way.

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