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R128 Loudness and what the networks do with it
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Jamie Mac
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1st February 2013
Old 1st February 2013
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R128 Loudness and what the networks do with it

Here in Belgium R128 is a recent creature, having gone into effect since January for the major Flemish networks and August last year for most the French speaking channels.
From the beginning it was clear lots of people (who have no clue what R128 really is) were terrified of this loudness principle and that it would ruin the intelligibility of programs, bad mixes would become more evident (because there would no longer be an optimod squishing everything together) and that everything would end up like a theater style mix (because more dynamics are allowed, right?).

Anyway, me and my colleagues mixed a few things for various networks and listened back to them when they went on air and felt something wasn't right. So I decided to record the output of my DVR, take it to work an compare my mix to what eventually ended up on air.

I was surprised by the results to say the least..

One network still applied a healthy dose of multiband compression (taking out lows, heavily compressing mid-high frequencies) and on top of that still limiting it at -9dB. And on top of that there is a nasty AGC that decides if the program gets too loud it gradually turns it down up to 3 dB over a period of 3 seconds (this is what the chief audio of the network told me).
For example, a show I do called The Voice, you have a singer starting out softly, building up to a grand finale. The finalizer at the network will even that out to being soft, a bit louder, a bit louder, (AGC kicks in), softer, softer and sort of equal then. But the dynamic of the song is lost and you lose the impact of your big finale. Also meaning that the commentary after the song will still be turned town by the AGC and only gradually gets brought back up again too..

It just plain sucks..

So here's my question:

Do any of you in other R128 countries experience similar things to this with your mixes or do they come out like you mixed them. Or do you know what processing is still applied at the networks?
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1st February 2013
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Well, there is a distinct lack of knowledge on the network side here in Holland.
We (a big OB company) sent a letter to all networks, public and commercial, asking if they were going to implement R128, if they still wanted peak limiting, and if they were going to install R128 processing.
Noone ever answered the letter, most likely because noone at the networks has a clue.
R128 became offical law here in Holland, but the networks never informed us, or any of the other OB companies.
By asking the "eindregie" I found out that they indeed have R128 processing (no more old fashioned peak limiting) and you can hear this if you listen to your mix off-air, there's gentle leveling mostly.
However, it is very possible that some networks, since no one there seems to have a clue technically, take r128 as the new norm, since it's the law now, but do not even realise they need different processing...

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1st February 2013
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Are you saying you delivered a fine EBU R-128 compliant mix and the network managed to mess up the dynamics, EQ, apply AGC and it's *still* R-128 compliant?? That would be amazing. Not to mention that your reputation as a mixer could be damaged.

Just to double check: are you sure you analyzed the direct mpeg audio stream recorded to the DVR or did you use another method (conversion to analog...) to record the audio?


I still don't understand how so-called Loudness Processors are supposed to work. For example the linear acoustics Aero which seems to be popular among broadcasters. The definition of Loudness is tied to the length of a programme. but these processors work in realtime without any knowledge of the future or the length of the programme. They might be useful for unpredictable live situations, but for preproduced content they should just bypass. In fact they read metadata, so if the metadata is set, they should just read it and scale the audio overall if needed.
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1st February 2013
Old 1st February 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nucelar View Post
Are you saying you delivered a fine EBU R-128 compliant mix and the network managed to mess up the dynamics, EQ, apply AGC and it's *still* R-128 compliant?? That would be amazing. Not to mention that your reputation as a mixer could be damaged.

Unfortunately this is the case.
They apply slight multiband compression (maybe EQ too..) and Limit to -9dB before going to their loudness normalizer (a unit made by JÜNGER-audio) which also does the AGC. so what comes out of that unit will always be R128 compliant

I took the DVR out of the equation by recording different mixes on different networks and they give different results.

All in all the difference isn't night and day, especially when listened to on TV speakers. It doesn't sound bad, it's a vast improvement compared to before, where they processed the living daylights out of your mix with their optimods. But I still have the feeling if they want to play R128, they should do it properly.

I guess the network does it to make up for bad mixes or mixes done in AVID, and also they don't want to let go of "their sound".
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1st February 2013
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All major Flemish networks installed this machine in their chain (I think).


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1st February 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by huub View Post
Well, there is a distinct lack of knowledge on the network side here in Holland.
Here, they know sort of what they're talking about but some networks give me the impression that they don't approve of it (as do LOTS of 'older' mixers, and video editors who mix smaller shows on AVID or final cut). They all approve of the "lets make everything this loud" but they disapprove of the ability to create more open, dynamic mixes, or mix with less compression and (almost) no limiting.
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1st February 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Mac View Post
Here, they know sort of what they're talking about but some networks give me the impression that they don't approve of it (as do LOTS of 'older' mixers, and video editors who mix smaller shows on AVID or final cut). They all approve of the "lets make everything this loud" but they disapprove of the ability to create more open, dynamic mixes, or mix with less compression and (almost) no limiting.
That's because the latter takes more work.

From what you are saying, it sounds like R128 requires mixers to even out their shows more than ever, due to the AGC involved in the on air boxes.

philp
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Quote:
Originally Posted by philper View Post
That's because the latter takes more work.

From what you are saying, it sounds like R128 requires mixers to even out their shows more than ever, due to the AGC involved in the on air boxes.

philp
Problem is it sounds worse with the AGC (on my mixes at least) you can hear the leveling. I think its pretty normal for a talent show like The Voice to have the music stand out from the rest.. but the AGC doesn't let me do that (in the way that I and the director, and music supervisor,... want it) Now it notices a loud part and gradually turns it down and then afterwards gradually turns it back up again when its quiet. Its just a ridiculous process..

Another problem is that there are no rules to setting up that loudness normalizer and every network can set it up the way they want to and they don't communicate that to us.. So we don't know what the AGC will react to.
I've asked for the settings and they won't give them to me. They say its irrelevant..
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1st February 2013
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Yikes. Sorry to hear, man...

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1st February 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jrhager84 View Post
Yikes. Sorry to hear, man...

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Indeed, this whole situation seems like a nightmare.

How can one expect any sort of reasonable expectation of what shall occur to their work down the line?

A question for those that are impacted by the standard:

Do you feel that your concerns are a product of the standard being somewhat new, and therefore there is a shared failure of understanding of how it should best be intergrated?

I suppose my above question naturally leads me to ask - What would have to happen to reach a balance which would be favorable to everyone involved?

Best,
Alexa
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1st February 2013
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The problem isn't the standard itself but the way in which broadcasters still have the freedom to do whatever they want to muck up the sound to their liking while still being compliant with the standard.

So communication is key! A lot of this can be resolved (and I hope it will) once everyone openly communicates the way in which they operate, and appreciate the feedback we give them and act accordingly.


I must stress this again, the problems I've encountered aren't as horrible as they might sound. The leveling is only slightly, the compression eq is also only slightly.. Limiting is also only slightly.
But still, I thought one of the benefits of the new standard was that we would hear the mix in the way the mixer intended it. And it's a bit disappointing that this is not the case. In Belgium at least.
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2nd February 2013
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That AGC thing is ironic. I guess they did it to avoid complaints from viewers having to change their TV volume to accommodate louder and quieter parts of shows, but that's what's going to end up happening as they chase the AGC around! This all is actually worse than the whole "dialnorm" magilla of a few years back.

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2nd February 2013
Old 2nd February 2013
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Hello,
some experience from France where r128 compliance is mandatory for more than one year now for national broadcasters. Take into account that analog TV broadcasting has ended in France at the same time.
The rules are (summarized) :
  • the integrated loudness over 24 hours for a channel must be -23 LUFS.
  • all programs delivered since january 2012 must be broadcasted with an integrated loudness of -23 LUFS (+/- 1 LU).
  • there's a tolerance for 'stock' (ie delivered before january 2012) programs that can be broadcasted with an integrated loudness between -25 and -20 LUFS.
(You may notice that this raise questions like : how can a channel present a daily integrated loudness of -23 LUFS if half of the programs are r128 compliant and the other half, being stock, is around -20 LUFS).

Several approach are possible :
  • You have a strong QC department that is able to check conformance of all new programs, you broadcast a small amount of stock (or you have the tools to do some offline loudness alignment on the stock), then you can just use a true-peak limiter on your channel.
  • Your playout system is able to read a metadata indicating wether a given element is r128 compliant or not and appropriately bypass an ALC : you can activate ALC only on the programs that are off tolerance. (Yes, there's a side effect on real-time ALC which is that a r128 compliant program may output not compliant from an ALC !).
  • You are lazy, don't have a real QC or just don't want to bother : use an ALC all the time.
  • Use the dialog_level dolby e-ac3 metadata to maintain conform output at receiver's side. Unfortunately, SD terrestrial broadcasting in France is MPEG1-LII, no metadata, and besides, most broadcaster prefer to have a constant dialog_level metadata on the e-ac3 stream of HD terrestrial broadcasting because some receiver behave strangely when you play with that (like sound disappears briefly when the metadata changes, or the receiver will hang ...)
  • (Other options available)
I think in France a few channels use only true-peak limiting, a few use the 'activate only when needed' option and a majority use an ALC. But I think that the majority of those that use an ALC use it in 'loudness' mode and don't add a 0 PPM limiter. (Maybe some people do that in countries where you still have an analog broadcasting going on. Is that the case in Belgium ?).
Another point to take into account : you are not always really sure of what happens on other distribution paths (IP TV, which is of wide use in France, cable, satellite, ...) and if they don't add a processor ... (besides transcoding from e-ac3 or MPEG1-LII to he-aac for example).
I would ask Jamie Mac from what path he did his DVR record, and also, as mentioned, wether he checked the binary stream or the decoded stream at the output of his DVR.
As time goes by and more main control room go file based and use inteligent automated workflows, you can expect more file based loudness alignment when needed and hopefully less real-time processing.
From the audience perspective, we have much more feedback from people happy that the commercials don't jump in their face anymore than from people unhappy with bad effects of processors.
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2nd February 2013
Old 2nd February 2013
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What I do is mix to R128, as is required, and call it a day. There's nothing I can do about what happens on the network side.

That being said, having the chance to deliver dynamic mixes where appropriate is VERY cool, although heavy compression/limiting is still an option, again, where appropriate (trailers f.e.)

What concerns me more is that here some mixers, mostly in the ad-world, are trying to 'circumvent' R128 by applying ridiculous processing chains to their spots, so that it seems it's louder than the rest.
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5th February 2013
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Man, I've been listen to the NY FOX station (WNYW) on DirecTV, and the new ATSC spec (essentially identical to R128) doesn't seem to be helping. The local & national promos still blow me out of the room -- I'm guessing the levels are at least 3-4dB too hot. Spots are at least a dB or so hotter than program levels. I don't think it's working.

Other networks, like CBS, are damn near perfect from what I hear -- but they generally weren't too bad even before the new specs came into effect.
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5th February 2013
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I think we should add that the concerned Broadcaster in Belgium also has "customized" the R128 specs. As for the commercials, they also expect their program material to be delivered with a momentary loudness of -15LUFS. (!?)

They have a long history of "doing it their way" (before R128, they required that dialog should stay within a 6dB range). They are most concerned about their older audience, which should be able to hear everything loud and clear, even with their TV set pretty low in volume.

Of course, there is something to be said about R128 or any other (or lack of) loudness control, and it is understandable that they want to use the specs/rules in a way they are happy with it. However, if this means that all of the good work of the Sound Engineers is ruined and becomes pointless, then it is not OK. That being said .. not much has changed. The only difference is that we don't have to screw up our mixes ourselves anymore.


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5th February 2013
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We recently had to go to France Television because one of our feature film TV mixes did not pass QC there. I came out realising that the whole R128 thing had been sold to sound people as a way to get a better sounding mix on peoples TVs, when in all truth it's the absolute contrary.
Mastering highly dynamic film mixes to the TV medium, within French specs, can not be done while preserving the artistic intents of the director for many scenes. Asking for an overall Loudness of -23LUFS is one thing, but asking ALL the dialog to remain within-7/+7 LU also is a recipe for crap sound and disappearing dynamics. The opposite of what was promoted with the introduction of loudness metering.

And most TV channels resort to final on air processing anyway to avoid being fined by the CSA (Audiovisual Authority) for straying from the -23 LUFS measurement over 24 hours.

Disappointing to say the least.

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6th February 2013
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I'm finding it kind of tough to get a PBS mix (-24, peak to -3) to pass all the requirements for R128, at least as far as the metering I have goes (Tone Boosters, Loudness Difference, DMM). The mix is pretty compressed compared to what I had before....

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6th February 2013
Old 6th February 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fredo View Post
The only difference is that we don't have to screw up our mixes ourselves anymore.
Hmm, that's sad. I have better experience from German TV. (now)
Last autumn I heard one of my shows mixed in R128 being broadcast within a -9dBfs context! Well, actually it was even worse, because the commercial after my show was -2dB true peak with a loudness of -12! Wild west!

Now, however I am under the impression that everything is working as expected. I'll double check and grab a stream off the cable network next weekend to be sure.

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6th February 2013
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And if they run a AGC to conform to -23 during the course of a day, shows that was mixed and conforming to r128, they will no longer conform after the r128 compliant AGC.
But the channels output over a day will conform...

Between a rock and a hard place...

The only way this will ever work properly is when ALL delivered material complies (and the networks remove AGC) or at least that they handle non compliment material separately from the stuff that is compliant.
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6th February 2013
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I think everyone agrees that there should be some kind of flag in R128 compliant material, causing the processing to be bypassed.
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18th July 2013
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So, reviving this thread with an update.

I just mixed a documentary series and I thought it sounded a little weird on air. So I recorded the output of my DVR and imported it into protools again.

And here's the result (I don't think I can post clips, so it's just a picture) Top is my mix, bottom is on air, after processing. (both "normalized" to -23 LUFS)

But you'll get the gist of it. The overall dynamics of the program are completely messed up. quiet parts get pulled up (see the beginning!!) along with major hiss issues. And dialog is actually quieter than in my mix. Dramatic build ups in music even become build downs..


I think it's sad that networks agree to go R128 for the benefit of sound quality for the viewer. But they still manage to screw up everything so it becomes worse...
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R128 Loudness and what the networks do with it-screen-shot-2013-07-18-11.18.25.jpg  
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18th July 2013
Old 18th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Mac View Post
So, reviving this thread with an update.

I just mixed a documentary series and I thought it sounded a little weird on air. So I recorded the output of my DVR and imported it into protools again.

And here's the result (I don't think I can post clips, so it's just a picture) Top is my mix, bottom is on air, after processing. (both "normalized" to -23 LUFS)

But you'll get the gist of it. The overall dynamics of the program are completely messed up. quiet parts get pulled up (see the beginning!!) along with major hiss issues. And dialog is actually quieter than in my mix. Dramatic build ups in music even become build downs..


I think it's sad that networks agree to go R128 for the benefit of sound quality for the viewer. But they still manage to screw up everything so it becomes worse...
I've had the same issue here. If they give a spec and you meet the spec, why is it still being processed? And at which point in the chain?
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18th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Mac View Post
So, reviving this thread with an update.

I just mixed a documentary series and I thought it sounded a little weird on air. So I recorded the output of my DVR and imported it into protools again.

And here's the result (I don't think I can post clips, so it's just a picture) Top is my mix, bottom is on air, after processing. (both "normalized" to -23 LUFS)

But you'll get the gist of it. The overall dynamics of the program are completely messed up. quiet parts get pulled up (see the beginning!!) along with major hiss issues. And dialog is actually quieter than in my mix. Dramatic build ups in music even become build downs..


I think it's sad that networks agree to go R128 for the benefit of sound quality for the viewer. But they still manage to screw up everything so it becomes worse...
Well, that pic was worth 1000 words...really depressing. I can actually see the "dish" of the ALC when it hits that section in the middle that's loud for more than a few sec, and can also see it amping up quieter bits in between--backwards dynamics. For some time I've felt that the historical trend for TV audio has been towards an "AM radio" sound--the closer the show is to having everything more or less the same level (with VO and interview DX being the loudest components) the happier they are.

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18th July 2013
Old 18th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Mac View Post
So, reviving this thread with an update.

I just mixed a documentary series and I thought it sounded a little weird on air. So I recorded the output of my DVR and imported it into protools again.

And here's the result (I don't think I can post clips, so it's just a picture) Top is my mix, bottom is on air, after processing. (both "normalized" to -23 LUFS)

But you'll get the gist of it. The overall dynamics of the program are completely messed up. quiet parts get pulled up (see the beginning!!) along with major hiss issues. And dialog is actually quieter than in my mix. Dramatic build ups in music even become build downs..


I think it's sad that networks agree to go R128 for the benefit of sound quality for the viewer. But they still manage to screw up everything so it becomes worse...
The Dutch public broadcasters have bypassed their processing by now, which is great.
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19th July 2013
Old 19th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Mac View Post
So, reviving this thread with an update.

I just mixed a documentary series and I thought it sounded a little weird on air. So I recorded the output of my DVR and imported it into protools again.

And here's the result (I don't think I can post clips, so it's just a picture) Top is my mix, bottom is on air, after processing. (both "normalized" to -23 LUFS)

But you'll get the gist of it. The overall dynamics of the program are completely messed up. quiet parts get pulled up (see the beginning!!) along with major hiss issues. And dialog is actually quieter than in my mix. Dramatic build ups in music even become build downs..


I think it's sad that networks agree to go R128 for the benefit of sound quality for the viewer. But they still manage to screw up everything so it becomes worse...
Great pic... I have always wanted to do that, and see the differences. very unfortunate.
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19th July 2013
Old 19th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Mac View Post
So, reviving this thread with an update.

I just mixed a documentary series and I thought it sounded a little weird on air. So I recorded the output of my DVR and imported it into protools again.
...
Hi Jamie,
have you recently talked to the broadcaster about this? The waveform picture is very good argument to turn that processing off with R128 (after having the delivered mixes checked for R128 compatibility on the play-out server)...although I fear it'll fall on deaf ears with the powers that be...

Cheers,

Thierry
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19th July 2013
Old 19th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thierryd View Post
Hi Jamie,
have you recently talked to the broadcaster about this? The waveform picture is very good argument to turn that processing off with R128 (after having the delivered mixes checked for R128 compatibility on the play-out server)...although I fear it'll fall on deaf ears with the powers that be...

Cheers,

Thierry
Hey Thierry,

I guess you know who is in charge of audio at that particular network and his way of playing the game by His own crooked rules.

I'll try and go down there next week and have a chat.
But I'm pretty sure he'll just tell me I don't know how to mix.
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20th July 2013
Old 20th July 2013
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Hey Thierry,

I guess you know who is in charge of audio at that particular network and his way of playing the game by His own crooked rules.

I'll try and go down there next week and have a chat.
But I'm pretty sure he'll just tell me I don't know how to mix.
That's kind of been the stock response from all the networks since the new standards started coming--starting back with dialnorm etc etc a few years back.

philp
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20th July 2013
Old 20th July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by huub View Post
The Dutch public broadcasters have bypassed their processing by now, which is great.
Hey Huub, do you know if they have a system that bypasses the processing on selected material, or have they just turned it all off?
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