DTS, Inc (NQ:DTSI) is to acquire iBiquity for $172M USD. This was the headline about the middle of last week. With that announcement, we get to see some of iBiquity’s financials; revenue of $40-50 million this year with a margin of 30-36%.
My question is, who or what is DTS? DTS was initially known as Digital Theater Systems, Inc. They specialize in digital surround sound technology, by developing or acquiring companies that created various CODECs and surround sound technology.
An image of 35 mm film showing four audio formats, from left to right: SDDS (blue area to the left of the sprocket holes), Dolby Digital (grey area between the sprocket holes with the Dolby “Double-D”), analog optical sound (the two white lines to the right of the sprocket holes), and the DTS time code (the dashed line to the far right). The DTS time code syncs picture to a CD-ROM that contains the surround sound sound track.
DTS continues to develop surround sound technology and makes money by licensing that technology to consumer and professional audio clients. According to their 2015 Q2 financials, they are on track to make $140-145 million this year with a 25-30% margin.
My next question is, what does this mean for HD Radio? It is much harder to answer this question, but here are some general observations:
- DTS is a publicly traded company. Financials and other information are a matter of public record. It seems likely that the operation will be more transparent.
- DTS operates with higher revenue and lower margins.
- DTS has a high interest in mobile markets; devices and dashboards.
- DTS has a history of continued development and marketing of technology it owns.
There are a couple of different scenarios possible; the first is business as usual. I think this is the least likely situation. IBiquity as a company and HD Radio as a technology basically flat lined ten years ago. A successful company like DTS would not likely purchase something that does not have growth potential.
Second possibility, DTS will keep the same licensing structure, but upgrade the HD Radio technology. From a audiophile’s perspective; HD-1 sounds good, HD-2, 3, and 4 channels not so much. This is especially true as more channels are added and the same size pie (aggregate digital bandwidth) gets divvied up into smaller and smaller pieces. One area where HD Radio could shine is to get rid of the HD2-4 channels and create an IP multicast system. IPv6 has greatly improved multicast performance which might enable a free data stream download, minimal data back haul via mobile data for an interactive, low data usage digital experience. That would free up a lot of translators.
Third possibility, DTS will reduce the licensing fees for broadcasters and consumers and accept a lower margin on existing technology. DTS will use HD Radio as a route to get their technology into dashboards, which is where they see their future profits. Remember, the self driving car is only a few years away and mobile entertainment will be all the next rage.
As far as AM HD Radio goes, I don’t see anything happening with that. Medium wave broadcast channels do not offer enough bandwidth to facilitate reliable digital transmission.
In any case, for better or for worse, change is coming to terrestrial radio.
Lets get started:
Results of a deer vs automobile accident
It does not look like much, however, that is about $5,500.00 worth of damage. What you don’t see is the mashed oil cooler and radiator. This happened on my way from one place to another during the early morning hours. I was traveling at about 55 MPH when a deer bolted from the woods and entered the roadway from the right. I did not have time to break.
In a ditch
A momentary lapse of attention causes loss of $80.00. I think I was adjusting the defroster as I was driving down the road when suddenly, I felt the car tilt over to an alarming degree. You can see the tow truck getting ready to pull it out. Fortunately, there was no damage to the vehicle.
Troubles with the neighbor
This is on the access road to one of our transmitter sites. The station has a legal right of way through this property, however, the neighbor seems to object. I spoke with him and showed him a copy of our deed, he has since changed plans.
One side of a balanced audio connection disconnected
This is the downside of using category cable to make audio connections. The wires are not as rugged as say Belden 8451. This was causing problems because it is at an AM studio/transmitter site.
Burned 30 amp three phase contactor
Three phase, 30 amp, 240 volt contactor installed in a 480 volt system. Lasted a few years, anyway.
White face hornets nest
New tenants on one of our towers. This is a white faced (or bald faced) hornets nest. They are really paper wasps, but that difference aside, these beasts are nasty, aggressive and have a painful sting. Normally, I am a live and let live kind of person, but in this case, they gotta go.
Dummy load attached to plywood
This is at one of our AM clients site. Somebody, quite some time ago it seems, made this test load for a 1 KW AM transmitter. It is very nice, carbon ceramic resistors, 50 ohms and surprisingly little reactance. Then they attached it to this piece of plywood. As one can surmise, the load gets quite hot under full power, full modulation conditions. We remounted this in a cage type enclosure and bolted it to the cinder block wall.
Scala PR-950U cross polarized
The client at this station is complaining of intermittent STL drop outs and low signal strength at the receive end. Found this Scala PR-950U antenna mounted for vertical polarization, but the antenna element is horizontally mounted. We’ll call it “vorizontal.”
Ribbon cable from a Cummins 135 KW generator
This was discovered during routine maintenance and thankfully not during a power outage. Mice got into the control box of a newish Cummins 135 KW generator and chewed through what looks like a data buss cable. The generator would not run and the cable and control board needed to be replaced.
There is more bulging capacitors removed from flat panels monitors.
And so on…
In the progression from Circuit Switched Data to Packet Switched Data, I can think of many different applications for something like this:
FMC01 MPX to IP CODEC
The FMC01 MPX to IP encoder can be used for multi-point distribution (multi frequency or same frequency network) of FM Composite audio, or as a backup solution over a LAN bridge, LAN extension, or public network. I can think of several advantages of using this for a backup when composite analog STL’s are in use. There are many compelling reasons to extend the LAN to the transmitter site these days; Transmitter control and monitoring, security cameras, office phone system extensions, internet access, backup audio, etc. I would think, any type of critical infrastructure (e.g. STL) over a wireless IP LAN extension should be over a licensed system. In the United States, the 3.6 GHz WLAN (802.11y) requires coordination and licensing, however, the way the rules are set up, the license process is greatly simplified over FCC Part 74 or 101 applications.
Another similar CODEC is the Sigmacom Broadcast EtherMPX.
Sigmacom Broadcast EtherMPX CODEC
• Transparent Analog or Digital MPX (MPX over AES), or two discrete L/R channels (analog or AES).
• Built-in MPX SFN support with PTP sync (up to 6.000km in basic version). No GPS receivers!
• Unicast or Multicast operation to feed unlimited number of FM transmitters with MPX from one encoder.
• Linear uncompressed PCM 24-bit audio.
• Very low audio latency: 2,5mS in MPX mode.
• Perfect match with Sigmacom DDS-30 Exciter with Digital MPX input.
• Can be used with high quality 802.11a/n Ethernet links.
• DC coupled, balanced Analog inputs & outputs with -130dBc noise floor.
• No modulation overshoots due compression or AC capacitor coupling.
• Decoder provides simultaneously Analog & Digital output for transmitter redundancy.
• Aux RS232 serial transparent link, Studio to Transmitter.
• Auto switchover to Analog input when Digital signal is lost.
• Centralized remote control & management software
One last thought; separating the CODEC from the radio seems to be a good idea. It allows for greater flexibility and redundancy. Using an MPX type STL allows sensitive air chain processing equipment to be installed at the studio instead of the transmitter site.
As it turns out, 300 kbp/s or greater. At least in critical listening environments according to the paper titled Perceived Audio Quality of Realistic FM and DAB+ Radio Broadcasting Systems (.pdf) published by the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society. This work was done by group in Sweden and made various observations with different program material and listening subjects. Each person was given a sample of analog FM audio to listen to, then they listened to various audio selections which were using bit reduction algorithms (AKA CODEC or Compression) and graded each one. The methodology is very thorough and there is little left for subjective interpretation.
In less critical listening environments, bit rates of 160-192 kbp/s will work.
I made a chart and added HD Radio’s proprietary CODEC HDC, which is similar to, but not compatible with AAC:
||Bit Rate (kbp/s)
|HD Radio FM; HD1 channel*
||HDC (similar to AAC)
||96 – 144
|HD Radio FM; HD2 channel*
|HD Radio FM; HD3 channel*
|HD Radio AM*
||32 – 128
||MPEG II, Dolby digital
||192 – 256
||PCM, DTS, Dolby digital
||MPEG I,II,III, WMA, AAC, etc
||32-320, 128 typical
||128 – 256
||96 – 320
||64 – 256
**PCM: uncompressed data
This is the composite Mean Basic Audio Quality and 95% confidence intervals for system across all excerpts:
Over the years, we have simply become accustomed to and now accept low quality audio from mp3 files being played over cheap computer speakers or through cheap ear buds. Does this make it right? In our drive to take something good and make it better, perhaps it should be, you know: Better.
Special thanks to Trevor from Surrey Electronics Limited.
The finished product:
SAS Rubicon console, WAJZ Albany, NY
This is the finished product from an earlier post. Currently, it it the studio for WAJZ in Albany, but that is not permanent. The SAS studio goes together fairly quickly, as most of the trunking between the TOC and studio is done over the SAS data channel.
The studio monitors (Tanoy Reveal) are set on little posts under the computer screens. I like this set up as the DJ’s are less likely to rock the house if they decide to crank up the volume on their favorite tune. I am also kind of digging the lack of a table top equipment pod. That takes up a lot of counter top space and always seems to be in the way. There are two CD players rack mounted below the counter (lower left), which are almost never used.
WDST is a well known radio station in Woodstock, NY. Formatically, I would call it Adult Album Alternative (AAA) and it is one of my favorite stations to listen to. We also do the engineering work for this station. While I was there last week, I snapped a few pictures of the studios:
WDST air studio, Woodstock, NY
All of the studio use Audioarts R-60 consoles, which are in good condition considering their age. Lots of guest microphones and the windows look out into a performance venue.
WDST music library, located in hallway outside of studio
The music library is extensive.
WDST main production room
The production room, another R-60 console. I don’t know where the microphone disappeared to, perhaps it was borrowed by the morning show.
WDST technical operation center
Technical Operation Center (TOC). WDST uses NextGen from RCS for music storage, playback and automation. Other equipment includes ISDN, POTS phone, Distribution Amps, Limiters, streaming computer, STL, etc.
WDST transmitter, Broadcast Electronics FM5C
The transmitter site is on Hallihan hill, across the street from the old ATT long lines site. The station uses a Broadcast Electronics FM5C transmitter.
WDST forward power meter
Forward power, almost five whole kilowatts of flame throwing power.
WDST antenna, Hallihan Hill, Kingston, NY
The antenna is a Shively 6810 2 bay half wave spaced.
It is time, once again, to replace some very old Pacific Recorders BMXII consoles. The Pacific Recorders consoles were very expensive when new, but after 30 years of continuous use, have more than paid for themselves. The replacement console of choice for this installation is a SAS Rubicon. I have installed these units elsewhere and they are the modern equivalent of the PRE BMX.
The heart of the Rubicon system is the 32KD router. Routed audio systems can save a lot of time and effort in a large studio facility installation. Not having to run and terminate multiple analog and digital trunk cables between rack room and studio is a huge deal in a six or ten studio installation project.
The SAS 32KD router and Rubicon console system uses a serial TDM buss to communicate and transport audio around. This is a simpler system than packet switched IP data. Basically, the console surface is a very large, fancy computer control interface. Here are some pictures of the start of the project:
New Studio room, furniture installed
This is the view from the entry door. The furniture was placed last week and the counter top cut in for the console. The furniture is made by Studio Technology. The pile of yet to be installed equipment:
New studio equipment to be installed
For monitors, we are using the Tanoy 602p near field monitor placed on the table top above the computer screens. This studio will not have a turret. Turrets used to be necessary to hold things like cart machines and CD players. These days the CD players are used so infrequently that it was decided to put them in the side rack under the counter top. Turrets also take up a lot of counter top space that can be put to better use.
New studio punch blocks
Punch blocks and power connections. The red outlets are isolated ground UPS type, the back outlets are feed by the emergency generator power panel. All electric wiring is inside of metal conduit. The punch blocks are the inputs to the SAS RIO link unit, one 16 pair analog audio cable and ten category 5e shielded cables. The cat 5e is used for computer and TDM data buss to the router.
New Studio Rubicon console
The SAS Rubicon console cut into the counter top and protected by plastic sheets.
Rack room with 32KD routers. This facility has 9 studios total plus a news room with three work areas.
SAS 32KD router on line
The SAS 32KD router. All audio from the automation systems, satellite feeds and other sources is connected directly to these units. This unit is on line for other studios that have already been converted to the SAS gear.
FM and AM broadcast radio processing has gone through many iterations. At first, the main processing function was to limit the input audio to a transmitter and prevent over modulation. This was a particular problem with early tube type AM transmitters, where over modulation could create power supply overloads and kill the carrier while engineers scrambled around resetting things and hopefully pressing various buttons to get the transmitter back on the air.
Over the years, processors incorporated not just limiting, but compression, gating, equalization, clipping and so on all in an effort to keep ahead or at least abreast of the station across town.
Today, broadcast air chain processors come in all shapes and flavors. In addition to that, internet streaming stations have their own unique set of issues to deal with. The top of the line Telos Omina or Orban Optomod systems are great, however, they can set one back a pretty large sum of money. Enter then, the Stereo Tool PC based software processing program.
Stereo Tool sofware screen shot
The first difference between, say the Omina and Stereo Tool is the end user decides the hardware and basic operating system. The second difference is Stereo Tool comes with a free trial. Then there is the price difference, which ranges from about $48.00 US for the basic version, to $161.00 US for the basic FM version and finally $269.00 US for the full version (actual prices are in Euros, which will fluctuate day to day and the credit card company will likely charge an exchange fee). Add to that a medium speed (2 Ghz) Intel Pentium4 or better computer, 1 Gb or more of RAM, good sound card and it all comes out to a reasonably priced audio processor.
Here are some of the specific features for broadcasting:
- Hiss Removal Filter
- FM Hiss Removal Filter
- Automatic Gain Control (AGC)
- 10-band multiband compressor / limiter / clipper
- Phasing error (AZIMUTH) correction filter
- Stereo booster
- Bass booster
- Final limiter
- Distortion masking Loudness filter
- Lowpass filter
- FM pre-emphasis filter
- FM stereo encoder
- FM RDS encoder
- Composite limiter
Much more info at the Stereo Tool website.
The idea of PC based audio processing is new and interesting to most of us. The designer and owner of Stereo Tool, Hans van Zutphen, was nice enough to answer a few questions I posed to him via email:
PT: What prompted you to write audio processing software?
HvZ: Since I was very little I’ve always wanted to have my own radio station. I remember playing with walkie-talkies and trying to receive their sound on a real radio when I was about 8 or 9. I never really did anything with it until I found out in 2001 that you could easily start a webradio station – I actually found out because I was listening to a pirate station in my car which turned out to have a stream; within a week my own station was online.
Of course I needed a bit of processing for it, and I wrote some command line tools – a singleband compressor, a stereo to mono convertor that didn’t cause any loss of audio (I was broadcasting hard trance on a mono 56 kbit/s stream, and this was the only way to get a decent sound out of it), and some time later a multiband compressor.
In 2004 I left the company I worked for (ASML, they make machines to make computer chips, customers are companies like Intel, AMD etc.) to start working for Philips Healthcare, where I was going to work on image processing for X-Ray systems. I had 2 months of ‘spare time’ between those jobs, and I wanted to learn to program in Visual C++, so I decided to a GUI around my command line tools, and make a Winamp plugin out of it. I called it ‘Radio Tool’. I never really planned to do anything with it, it was just an exercise project.
About a year later I came across the Winamp site again and I saw that you could upload plugins. So I uploaded my program, now renamed to ‘Stereo Tool’ because a Google search for “Radio Tool” gave far too many hits. Within a week there were over 1000 downloads and a while later it surpassed 90,000. At that point I decided to create a new version, Stereo Tool 2.0.
For quite a while this remained a hobby project, I occasionally worked on it for a few months and then I wouldn’t look at it for months. But at some point I was approached by someone people who worked at a “real” (FM) Dutch radio stations who asked for some extra features – he couldn’t get the audio loud enough, and that’s how I got into clipping. Things started to get better, I learned more and more about processing, the number of downloads increased and people became more and more enthusiastic about it. At some point, after reading something about how an FM stereo signal looks, I thought it might be possible to output a stereo signal with a 192 kHz sound card, so I bought one and did some tests and it worked that same night, and within a few weeks I added RDS.
PT: Do you know, approximately, how many stations (AM/FM/internet) Stereo Tool is being used on?
HvZ: FM: About 500, ranging from small community and pirate stations up to large nation-wide stations which run Stereo Tool at a dozen transmitter sites. Streaming: Not sure, but definitely over 1,000, probably a lot more.
PT: I have read through the forums on your site, Stereo Tool looks like a very complete processing system. Any plans for new features, future upgrades, etc?
HvZ: Yes. I’m currently working on a new multiband compressor. The multiband compressor in Stereo Tool is still based on the code that I wrote in 2001 for my webradio station, which in turn was based on an even older version that I had used on 8-bit audio. It also has far too many bands. Because of this, the multiband compressor is currently the weak spot of Stereo Tool. In the last weeks I have made a new singleband compressor that sound a lot better, it actually outperforms other compressors I have tested, and I expect great results for the new multiband compressor, which will also have less bands. Something else that I’ve been planning for a long time is a composite clipper, which will add 1-2 dB of extra loudness and especially better highs. Stereo Tool can already be louder with good audio quality than nearly any hardware box on the market (see for example this video, Radio 538 uses an Orban 8600 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VpfcqUPQys – unfortunately due to the mpeg compression it’s a bit difficult to compare but listen for distortion ) – but there’s always room for improvement.
PT: What are the advantages of a PC software based processor vs. a hardware based (e.g. Omni or Optomod)?
HvZ: Ah, good question. Not sure if it’s the right question… With processing, a lot of things come down to taste, and there are several stations that have replaced their hardware processing by Stereo Tool not because it’s software and PC based but because they preferred the audio that comes out of it. Stereo Tool is also one of only 2 processors that contain a declipper (the other one is the Omnia 9, I licensed my declipper to them). For a demo of the declipper see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqOljvx9KaM
Also, Stereo Tool contains a stereo and RDS coder, most other processors don’t, so instead of having a whole bunch of devices everything can be done in a single PC, which also results in a better quality. Recently I added a new feature that enables synchronizing multiple FM transmitter signals that all connect to a simple Shoutcast stream (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYQ5CYs0ZX8 ), so you also don’t need any streaming hardware anymore.
Of course there’s the price. A hardware box that gives “similar” quality (of course every processor sounds different, and it’s a matter of taste, so it’s difficult to compare, but I’m assuming that things like low volume levels, gain riding, distortion and lack of clarity in the highs are bad) easily costs $10,000 or more. And you can always easily upgrade to new versions. If you already have a PC with enough spare processing power you don’t need to buy anything.
I know that some people at radio stations are ‘afraid’ of using a PC in their processing path, but based on feedback I get from the stations that run my software it’s completely stable – and of course if a PC does break, you can replace it with any fast enough PC you have lying around – you just need to put the proper sound card in.
But for development, the advantages are huge. If you use DSP’s, it’s usually a lot of work to even make a very small change. When I worked at Philips Healthcare, the image processing that had been done – without much changes – on DSP’s for many years was being converted to PC’s because of speed of development and price of hardware. Once the conversion was finished, the development speed increased dramatically and 2 years later the image quality had improved beyond anything that was imaginable with DSP’s. PC’s get faster every year, and you don’t have to do anything for that – for the same price the processing power that you can buy roughly doubles every 1.5 years, and if you pay more you can get even more. If you use DSP’s, you have to do a lot of work yourself, you cannot just ‘buy a faster DSP’. Testing things is very easy, I can write some code that does something new, post it on my forum and I’ll have feedback from users the next morning – with DSP’s that’s a LOT more difficult and it takes a lot more time. I’ve learned by now that everyone hears things in a different way, and occasionally there are groups of people who hear something they find very annoying while many other people (often including myself) don’t hear anything wrong with it at all. Especially in cases like this it’s really great to be able to quickly send new versions to several people all around the world for testing.
PT: Are there any particular sound cards that work better with Stereo Tool?
HvZ: Yes. For the best results, use the Marian Trace Alpha, with the ESI Juli@ as second-best choice (it needs calibration).
Thank you very much, Hans, for the interesting insight.
Checkout the videos, especially the declipper video, which is quite amazing. That will cleanup all but the most ham handed DJ mistakes.
PC based audio processing software is a great solution stations on a limited budget that cannot afford high end air chain processors. There are many LPFM’s, Part 15 stations and others that can get great sounding audio and RDS for a very reasonable price. Currently, the AM settings do not allow asymmetrical modulation, which is more of a US thing. There is some talk of adding it in a later update.
Good audio clip below of the WIYY’s (Rock 98, Baltimore) console melting down during the morning show. These things happen from time to time. I often found, when it happened at one the stations I was working for, nobody would know anything about it. Nope. Just stopped working. What? No, I don’t know anything about the coffee dripping out of the bottom of the console.
Rock 98, (WIYY) Baltimore, coffee spilled into console courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.
If that link doesn’t work, try this one (7MB .mp3 file).
Pictures and stuff at their facebook page.
Off the air for twenty minutes during morning drive. I wonder what kind of console it was? From the pictures on facebook, it looks like Wheatstone stuff. Ouch! That’s going to leave a mark.
I tried to enforce a no eating no drinking in the studio rule. Most of the time I was successful, however, there were various incidents over the years. The worst was the morning show spilling “distilled water” in the console, but not saying anything about it. Months later, the air monitor stopped muting when the main mic was turned on. Nearly caused the guy who did the spilling to loose his hearing. Karma.
At another station, someone spilled soda on all the remote mic on/off/cough switches for the guest positions. That prompted an early morning phone call, which the morning show producer yelled at me and told me I must be at the station in five minutes (I lived about 25 minutes away at the time). Ha! I took my sweet time getting there. The soda cooked all the +5VDC regulators on the guest microphone modules, thus, for the next several days, all the morning show DJ’s had to share one microphone.
Old time radio guys will tell you, do not mess with the engineer.
It is surprising to me how many times I have seen this done incorrectly in the field. Summing a stereo source, whether it is balanced or unbalanced is not simply twisting a couple of wires together. This will effectively reduce the impedance of the outputs by one half. With newer, active balanced outputs, this may cause damage to the output amplifiers.
The parallel resistance formula is thus:
Therefore a 600 ohm stereo output tied together would look like:
Rt = 1/(1/600+1/600) or 300 ohms.
It also creates an impedance mismatch with the next piece of gear, which will effect the common mode noise rejection of the circuit.
The best way to sum is through a resistive network. That way stereo separation is maintained, the impedance of the output circuits is maintained and the output amplifier will not current cycle. That looks like this:
resistive summing network
Pretty easy to fabricate in the field. It is good to do things the right way, it sounds better on the air too.