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Feature: Going OTT in India

Feature: Going OTT in India
The assembled hosts, presenters and attendees of Ansata's seminar on loudness and mixing for OTT

Feature: Going OTT in India

As India’s first Atmos Home Entertainment (HE) studio gets Dolby approval, the country has hosted a seminal meeting between Avid, Dolby and the creative manager of sound technology at Netflix. Caroline Moss reports back

Farhad K DadyBurjor is known for his firsts. Back in 1995 he drafted in acoustician Andy Munro to design a studio at the Famous complex for him, precipitating a wave of high-quality recording facilities on the subcontinent. So it’s no surprise that the first studio to be approved for Dolby Atmos HE in India is Famous Galactica A, which DadyBurjor helms. Again, the Mumbai studio was treated by Munro Acoustics, updating it from its existing 5.1 avatar to comply with the new format. Together with DadyBurjor’s input, the company specified and built a custom Dynaudio 7.1.4 monitoring system, which has been installed alongside a new 32-fader Avid S6-M40 console, a Dolby HT RMU renderer and a ProTools system upgraded with HDX | 2 and dual MTRX interfaces. 

But DadyBurjor is at pains to point out that to create the high-quality audio tracks he’s hoping to work on at his new studio, many of which will find an outlet in the new OTT channels that are proliferating in India, more education is needed, from the ground up. At this stage, he says, it’s vital the industry understands the importance of correct working practices.

Farhad DadyBurjor at his Famous Galactica studios which is now equipped for Dolby Atmos HE
Farhad DadyBurjor at his Famous Galactica studios which is now equipped for Dolby Atmos HE

‘Quality starts at the beginning of the signal chain, at the creation and acquisition on location,’ he says. ‘There shouldn’t be the expectation that things can get fixed in the mix stage by pointlessly throwing money around to sort something that could have been done properly in the first place. If you start with the lowest bidder for the location sound, then add in the lowest bidder for ADR, then for Foley and sound design, at some point comes the realisation that you’ve grossly miscalculated how much quality you can get for such low rates.’

So it was timely, then, that in October 2019, Indian distributor Ansata held a one-day seminar in Mumbai to help create better awareness of issues surrounding loudness of content, as well as the use of Dolby Atmos for OTT content. The event was attended by around 200 audio professionals involved in audio postproduction, from acquisition at location to final mix, as well as students and educationists.

‘The intent of the workshop was to inform and educate the sound community in India regarding loudness and mixing for OTT,’ explains Ansata’s CEO, Leslie Lean. ‘There are strict requirements for loudness specs that are being enforced. Understanding that, and how to achieve it, will help audio professionals provide much better output and quality without straining to just hit the measurement numbers.’

Dolby's Bhaskar Pal
Dolby's Bhaskar Pal

This was the first time ever that Avid, Dolby and Netflix had got together, with the companies represented by Dolby India’s senior content services engineer, Bhaskar Pal, Avid pro audio application specialist, Sreejesh Nair and Netflix manager, sound technology, Scott Kramer.

‘This was a unique event for many reasons, not just the fact that three major players came together on a common platform,’ comments Nair. ‘Another unique reason was that we explained the entire process, from creation to execution, presenting a complete breakdown of the measurement specs, how to read the meters, how those meters actually measure and how to use that knowledge in mixing. This was a true eye-opener for many because once the technicalities were understood from a very simple layman’s perspective, they understood the tricks and methods they could use for a mix. It also enabled them to understand the core differences between ITU, EBU and various measurement standards.’

Along with the sessions on loudness, which included understanding basics of loudness, loudness metering, how to correctly measure and manage loudness and to use that knowledge in mixing for a delivery spec on Pro Tools, there was also a session on Dolby Atmos room design principles for Atmos HE and the importance of having a standardised room and monitoring setup. This took into account how a room is built for broadcast and what should be looked at when designing a space for the purpose. It also outlined how a Dolby-certified room is built in terms of necessary acoustic treatment as well as correct speaker placement.

Avid's Sreejesh Nair
Avid's Sreejesh Nair

‘The Dolby Atmos format is very popular in India, and growing at a rapid pace,’ explains Pal. ‘Cinematic Atmos now has more than 600 screens across the country, in addition to 600+ available titles in the format. Atmos HE is fairly new but has garnered good interest among content creators. Thanks to Netflix India, Amazon Prime Video, HotStar and Eros NOW, we have good traction for the format.’

Futureworks, also in Mumbai, has also been certified by Dolby as an Atmos HE facility, and Pal expects another half dozen to be up and running in the near future.

Kramer followed the Avid and Dolby presentations, offering the perspective of an OTT broadcaster by explaining the delivery requirements for the platform as well as discussing working practices and end-to-end workflow for OTT content.

‘India is home to some of the most compelling films and series of today,’ he says of his visit to the subcontinent. ‘It was an honour to meet with so many talented sound artists from around the country. Broadcast loudness standards are relatively new to many re-recording mixers, so I joined Avid and Dolby at this event by presenting on our dialogue-based loudness specification. I also spoke on the importance of managing dynamic range and our investment in immersive audio as the future of audio distribution for long-form storytelling.’

Kramer also pointed to the importance of delivering a quality production sound recording on set, particularly when the locations may be noisy. ‘To make this work, the full crew must collaborate to set the sound mixer up for success,’ he says. ‘It's amazing to see the shared experience of different sound communities globally. We have much to learn from others, but are all united by the universal aspects of filmmaking.’

Some of DadyBurjor’s concerns were reassured by the day’s proceedings. ‘I feel that the key issue addressed by this joint event was to allay fears about meeting various loudness standards and targets,’ he says. ‘There is a woeful lack of first-hand understanding and education about loudness. In India, “loud is good” is traditionally the most important merit when judging audio content for any format delivery, resulting in deliveries where extraneous loudness masks greater technical problems like distortion, clipping and inter sample peaks. A gradual change of mindset in the approach to loudness is extremely important.’

In an industry that’s developing quickly, and where the importance of education is highly valued, the event was well received by participants. ‘Sound has diversified from movie theatres to OTT platforms and surround broadcast, and technical specs change depending on what platforms we eventually cater to,’ said Bishwadeep Chatterjee, chief engineer and founder, Q-Factor Studio in Mumbai. ‘Seminars like these update us and bring relevance to what we do.’

‘Overall it was a greatly successful event, with demand for more such seminars in the future,’ summarises Pal.

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