Dolby Wants To Make Sure That Commercial Doesn't Go To 11

from the been-there,-heard-that dept

Among the many things to be unveiled at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show is a new sound-leveling technology from Dolby Laboratories that goes into a TV that ensures that loud announcers and commercials won’t leave you scrambling for the volume control on your remote. Of course, this really isn’t that new. In the early 90s Magnavox tried pitching this feature, running commercials that featured John Cleese yelling back at the TV to quiet down. Dolby thinks that now that the technology’s been perfected, consumers will want to pay more for it, but that seems unlikely. For one thing, it’s really not that much of a problem. Commercials, typically, aren’t much louder than the actual program, and screaming announcers tend to be blissfully rare. Furthermore, volume range is a good thing when it’s an intended part of a program’s sound editing. The few people that really care about this, and want everything to be leveled off probably won’t constitute a big enough population for any manufacturer to justify adding the technology in, unless it’s very cheap. Of course, if some TV manufacturer wanted to bring in John Cleese to do some spots, we’d have no problem with that.

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Comments on “Dolby Wants To Make Sure That Commercial Doesn't Go To 11”

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Hulser says:

Skip the noise

I remember some study a while ago which concluded that most commercials didn’t actually increase in volume but that it only seemed like they did because the overall pitch was raised. So, all that time I thought I was annoyed by obnoxious commercials, but it turns out it just seemed like I was annoyed. Thanks guys.

Anyway, this auto-volume-adjustment tech seems like it’s a day late and a dollar short. The kind of customer who would have paid extra for this in the past is now the kind of customer who will buy/rent a DVR and just skip the entire commercial.

So, blare that commercial all you want! Go crazy and increase the pitch and the volume. I’ll be fast-forwarding through it anyway!

Neal says:

I don't buy it

Well, who cares if the peak db level in a commercial is no higher than the peak db level in the shows if the show hits that level 10 secs per hour and commericals are at it 25 of every 30 secs.

I have a TV on 12-14 hours a day and commercials on average are noticably louder than shows – often times to the point of causing discomfort. I have to set the volume on my television to level 8 to follow typical conversation in a show. I have to turn it to 10 to hear quiet dialog like whispers. I have to turn it down to 4 to not be annoyed by the loudness of most commericals.

That varies by network of course, with some of the cable channels that are too full of advertising being the worse, but networks very often suck too. It also varies by station.

Nobody Special says:

yea right

Commercials, typically, aren’t much louder than the actual program,

I don’t believe this. They seem louder and thus they are louder. And the problem is getting worse. And I recall reading about one country recently taking action against broadcasters over the issue.

My stereo already ahs the technology built in. I can turn it on and off. If it is a movie where I want the dynamics, it is off. If it is annoying TV, then it is on. All TVs should offer it since it is cheap to offer today. It isn’t worth huge bucks because it is simple to implement and costs a few lines of code in the DSP chip already in use. And if the chip needs added, that can be had for less then $10 in qty.

Tora1188 says:

Other, Better stuff

Theres a whole lot other, better stuff i saw today at CES.. Especially in the smaller, less publicized booths.

NOTE to anyone going to CES in the coming days:

Check out Chimei (Theyre over in the Sands/Venetian).

They make some of the best looking LCD monitors and televisions in the show. Plus they got a Monitor that actually translates the 3d vectors that your graphics card uses to produces the picture to instead crate a stereoscopic image that ACTUALLY LOOKS GOOD! No joke, they were running Unreal Tournament and LotR:RotK on these things and it was BEAUTIFUL! I actually thought that Orc I threw was gonna hit me in the face! This, my friends, is how 3d pictures are supposed to look!

Not bad for some unheard of Asian company.

Also be sure to take a look at the AMD/ATI booth over in the South hall (right across from Dell). Nothing particularly new, but they had some really nice looking PC builds out there worth drooling over for a few minutes.

Well, lots of cool stuff this year and, as usual, plenty of good swag.

BigEd says:

Ears are hurting...

Well I have cable and have the TV at a comfortable level to listen to. When the commercials come on they are blasting and I have to turn the level down. I believe that during commercials most people do something else and the cable company sells the adds and turns up the volume so we can hear the add in the kitchen or where ever. I don’t like it when someone else sets my sound level. Now when I get up I just hit the Mute till I come back.

Bumbling old fool (profile) says:

Huh? Misleading story altogether?

Sorry, but normalization as its normally referred to is quite common, and extremely useful.

Hell, everyone I know that rips dvds even normalizes their audio streams. Even the quality nuts. (and in case you didnt know, most dvd players also normalize the audio stream as well)

Yes, I think it owuld be quite nice to have that built right into the tv. Now if it only kicked on for commercials, then no.. that would be stupid. but thats not whats really going on.

david b says:

let's adopt a standard

just like in the world of film, where there is a nominal level that everyone adheres to, we should apply this to TV. and CDs. i’m frustrated with CDs that fatigue the ear when listening for long periods. bob katz has a good system (the k-system!) for music, but no one can put out a CD that adheres to the system because it wouldn’t be as loud as everything else out there, and everyone wants a “competitively loud” CD. likewise, people want their commercials competitively loud. it’s just short sighted. a record mastered with the k-system sounds better, you just have to turn up the volume a bit because the signal isn’t clipping all the time, unlike most CDs released in the last 20 years.

Jeff says:

Out Of Touch

“Commercials, typically, aren’t much louder than the actual program”

It’s dribble like this that seriously undermines Techdirt’s credibility. I still subscribe because occasionally there’s some good nugget of true news, but the signal-to-noise ratio I’m noticing is falling increasingly higher on the NOISE side.

By the way, in case it really matters to anyone at Techdirt, I’d be happy to see Techdirt fall back to one WEEKLY email of REAL ISSUES rather than to see it go downhill as Techdirt tries to backfill a slow news day with junk like this.

misanthropic humanist says:

Re: Out Of Touch

Cmon Jeff, be a sport – this is actually an interesting story with some good technical and anecdotal input so far.

Optimal audio volume is a complex issue. As I pointed out, one can’t even define loudness in common sense physics terms.

The previous post to this correctly explains dynamic range. Try watching a film like “Saving Private Ryan” on maximum compression, say -6dB threshold with a 20:1 ratio, or with a spectral maximiser. The artistic nuance of the film is completely lost – the really quiet bits lose their suspense and emotion and the really loud bits that should be shocking are emasculated.

So, whacking a great big compresser/limiter on there spoils the show. The advertiser on the other hand just wants to blast his product into your ears as loud as possible.

Two entirely incompatible agendas.

So the Dolby adaptive normaliser is actually a nice bit of progress, it adapts to the dynamics of the audio as a bigger picture (look ahead and look back with a sophisticated averaging window that weights the audio density, frequency, peak amplitude and RMS amplitude).

misanthropic humanist says:

loudness vs amplitude

If the pitch is increased for the same RMS amplitude then the loudness increases, this is the Fletcher Munsen effect, a facet of perceptual psychology.

So yes. If it seems like it’s louder, it is louder, loudness is defined perceptually, amplitude is not.

Many TVs already contain a compresser/limiter before the output stage. It is rare that the user can control the threshold and ratio values though. If they could it would be a very desirable control feature.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: loudness vs amplitude

Actually a more accurate curve is the Robinson and Dadson curve but you’re basically correct

The perception of sound loudness changes over frequency – human ears are most sensitive around the 12Khz frequency which is roughly where the s, k , t sounds in speech lie. There are even theories that the brain changes this further and hones in more on specific frequencies depending on the language you were brought up with but this is digressing

I’d be really interested to see how dolby are going to achieve this without compressing if anyone knows, as to really drop volume without any perceptible compression you would surely have to know what is coming next? Either that or have a reference line which states “this is supposed to be 20db” so the telly knows where to put it

fuzzix (user link) says:

Paramount UK

Watch South Park on Paramount UK… especially older episodes. I did once have a screen grab from audacity having recorded the audio from an airing of south park. There was a large peak in the middle which lasted around three minutes. Spot the ad break!

This wasn’t an increase in density as you might see with compression but an actual increase in amplitude… It was simply twice as loud.

eric says:


This was a feature I was wondering about just this past week. Not sure how it is everywhere else, but FX shows are considerably more quiet than commercials they show on that network. It’s always fun turning up the volume as high as it can go just to watch The Shield, but blowing out the speakers because Haverty’s Furniture is having a fricking President’s Day sale.

Enrico Suarve says:

I'd buy that for a dollar

I don’t care if they are normalising, reducing the tone for adverts that just ‘sound louder’ or whether they send around a little man to sit in front of the telly

This is something i would buy

We watch the television late at night with the kids in bed and the constant loud adverts are a constant annoyance, rushing to the telly or to find the remote to turn down the volume before the kids wake up

Barry Scott from Cilliut bang is the worst offender in the UK “Hi – I’m Barry Scott- it’s 11pm and I just woke your kids up to try to sell you toilet bleach…” bastard!

citizenj (profile) says:

I'm really surprised

that no one even mentioned tivo in the comments. c’mon, you call yourselves geeks? hell, I’ll go one better, with the hannibal from working ubuntu machine w/ ntsc tuner cards, hdmi output, 1 TB of disk space, bittorrent, dvd burner…..BOO YAA! screw commercials, you can set MythTv to edit, dontchyaknow. silly monkeys.

Rihahn says:


What they do these days is *reduce* the dB of the program, which makes you turn it up to hear the dialog. Then they run the commercials at ‘normal’ volume – which through your now cranked up gear causes grandma to evaporate…

(true story – happened to me over the holidays. Don’t let grandma run your AV system without supervision!)

TurnItDown says:

Been Done – $30. It works. I have one. There *are* standard levels. Widely ignored, either through ineptness or deliberately. “Quality nuts” do not regularly “normalize” DVD’s. CD’s have >90dB dynamic range and DVDs can too. Loud NOT = better (unless you’re hearing and/or brain-damaged). Radio stations compress to a dynamic range of about 2dB these days and some people who’ve never heard music reproduced on a quality system think that’s how it’s supposed to sound. TV commercials also have about .5dB dynamic range, which makes them sound louder even if they technically aren’t. The gizmo listed above really works though it does change the sound. Radio Shack [used to] sell[s] it too. No it’s not built in to the TV – hook your stereo up to the TV and start enjoying good sound.

Okle from Muskogee says:

Commercials aren't louder? You're kidding, right?

“Commercials, typically, aren’t much louder than the actual program, and screaming announcers tend to be blissfully rare.” Huh? You’re kidding, right?

In our market, the car dealers advertise during the 10PM news, on all three local network affiliates. My wife and I have been wishing for years for something to keep them from blasting us out of our seats.

But the commenters who have observed that this is a day late and a dollar short are absolutely right. For most TV programs, we pre-record on the DVR and skip commercials entirely.

Rob says:

the audio in adverts is purposely mastered to sound “louder” than the programs, they’re not actually ‘louder’ per se, but they are essentially maximized, through compression and the like, they don’t make the programs quieter, thats stupid, its just the programs are created with a wider dynamic range and the production of their audio is not geared solely towards loudness, as someone slightly just above sort of wrote, but I didn’t notice that until now

misanthropic humanist says:

long (delay) window

Nice link on noise weighting Enrico, cheers.

“I’d be really interested to see how dolby are going to achieve this without compressing if anyone knows, as to really drop volume without any perceptible compression you would surely have to know what is coming next?”

Easy 🙂 Theres a delay buffer of about a second or two, so it does know whats coming next (you see the picture and hear the sound post processing). It’s probably symmetrical either way so the averaging/interpolation happens over a 4 second window or more – plenty of time to make quite drastic byt graceful dynamics changes without the “pumping” you get from a real-time maximiser.

(actually I’ve no idea if that’s how they do it, that’s how I would do it)

tlcowoooo says:

Not all is quiet

I am supposed to have sound-levelling capabilities on my TV, but they don’t work. On Bravo, for example, I have to turn the set up almost halfway to hear the show — but the commercials are deafening. Also, the sound volume needed for Bravo is more than twice as high as it is for other shows — so woe be unto you if you decide to surf during commercials. And I don’t know where you live, but almost ALL the local commercials produced in the Omaha area and run on Cox cable are exponentially LOUDER than the programs surrounding them.

scotto says:

Loud Commercials

Commercials are for LOSERS!!! Get to the 21st century and buy a DVR (or get one free from your sat. company.)

But we REALLY NEED this technology, at least for poor people and cheapskates that won’t get with the DVR revolution. Governments should increase the taxes on ALL advertising because it is annoying and takes very little effort to advertise nowaday.

CommentsReader says:

Simple [NO}

We all know about the mute button,DVR,ect. Major brainstorms those were. But not all people are technical knowledgable, economically or mentally or physically able to use DVR’s or even remote controls. I have worked in rest homes in the past and this is a big problem for all concerned. Some kind of standard would seem to help out the most. And this comes from someone who hates rules.

Donald Cunningham says:

commercial sound increase

Pay extra for the privilege of even sound listening. Let me tell you, the Feds had better write some rules because turning the volume up may have worked in the 50’s and during monaural TV but when you are running through a ‘system’ I think it is a bunch of crap to have to hunt the remote and turn the sound down, then play with the sound when the commercial ends – what I would really like is to puddle jump commercials altogether; Screaming through the tube is not about to make me want to buy a product. Since the commercials are the ones increasing the volume, let Dolby charge them for the convenience they have come up with. We didn’t ask the commercial people to turn up the volume, and I am sure even the people with hearing aids would be thankful that their ears aren’t split by the sound.

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