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Question regarding DVD sound levels (1 Viewer)

Joe McCabe

Second Unit
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May 6, 1999
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This question has been asked on another forum that I post on, and I have wondered about it myself for quite some time.

Why is it that when watching DVDs on just a TV (no surround setup), the background music is so loud, that it actually drowns out the dialog??

For instance, in The Matrix, there are many scenes that you simply can't hear the dialog in, when the techno music is playing in the background.

Is there a way to correct this?
 

Martin Fontaine

Supporting Actor
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Aug 15, 2001
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This is called Channel Aggregation.

The track is still in 5.1 and meant to be played in 5.1. That your DVD Player downmixes it to 2.0 for use on a TV involves mixing the front/rear left into the single left channel, the front/rear right into the single right channel and the center get spread on both.

So when an action scene comes up, the fronts and rear are yelling so they get louder when added up in the downmix process.

To help, you can look in your DVD Player's menu for an option called something like Dynamic Range Compression or sometimes DRC or Audio DRC (Depends on the player). Enabling this will reduce volume of loud passages so that you don't have to crank up the volume to hear the dialog only to be blasted when some action or music comes up. It might not work with all movies, but when using the TV's speakers, it should be enabled.

Also some DVD Players have an option sometimes called "Dialog Enhancer" which increases the volume of the center channel data before putting it on the 2 sides.

Also, when given a choice, you should select the 2.0 track instead of the 5.1, that one was designed to be played on a TV so it should be ok.
 

Rick Blaine

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Joe,
Martin brings up some very important points that I can address in a little more detail for you but it will bring me to another conclusion.

First Channel Aggregation is a very important issue which Dolby ac3 addresses extremely well. Dolby recommends that the studios do special downmixes of their dynamic 5.1 tracks specifically for home theater. The changes are very subtle and for the most part will never be heard in 5.1 playback. Two things that are usually done are surround level adjuustments and LFE redirection. This helps the tracks sound better in Stereo and ProLogic modes. There are also parameter settings for surround and center downmix on the ac3 bitstream. The level on playback will be adjusted in the fold-down according to these parameters. Of course all this has to be done correctly to be effective.

Second is the issue of DRC. It is my understanding that DRC is always applied when you use your analog RCA outputs and go directly into your TV or Receiver. Now DRC may not really help the exact situation you are troubled with. DRC will even out the levels between Dialog and Mx/Fx when they are not playing at the same time. When Dialog is buried in FX the dialog will usually get compressed along with the FX and still be buried.

I believe the issue you are talking about is really in the MIX itself. There is a tendency today to mix audio in big action movies for visceral effect at the cost of everything else - including dialog. Smart directors will keep important dialog as isolated from action as possible.
Anyway I tend to think the issue you are talking about is in the source itself and the problem is magnified in Stereo downmix.
The real partial solution is probably a separate mix for LT/RT included on the DVD. But this will never happen.

Rick :b
 

Jeff*S*C*

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Jun 24, 2002
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290
This has always bothered me. I have the same problem (music loud, dialog low) and I DO have a 5.1 setup. Would a proper calibration with Video Essentials (which I've had for years but have yet to use :b) fix this problem? Does any music come from the center channel or does it depend on the mix? Thanks.
 

Michael Reuben

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Would a proper calibration with Video Essentials (which I've had for years but have yet to use ) fix this problem?
It's certainly the place to start. There may be other things you need to address (quality of your center speaker, room acoustics, etc.), but you can't accurately assess such items until you've calibrated the system.

M.
 

Felix Martinez

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This has always bothered me. I have the same problem (music loud, dialog low) and I DO have a 5.1 setup. Would a proper calibration with Video Essentials (which I've had for years but have yet to use ) fix this problem? Does any music come from the center channel or does it depend on the mix? Thanks.
First, make sure your matched speakers are placed in their appropriate spots and free of obstacles in front of them (you wouldn't believe how many times I've told friends and family to move an item that's blocking a speaker).

Then - and there is no need for any test disc to do this - engage the test tones from your receiver and ensure each speaker's volume hits you in the viewing position at the same level (and time). You can set these parameters in your receiver (or player).

99.9% of the time you don't have to mess with the timing parameters, and if your speakers are equidistant from the listening spot, and are of the same make and model, you won't have to tweak levels for each speaker either.

All this depends on your listening space, as well. If you have your surround set-up in a very open area, the high noise level of the room and reflections from what is coming out of your speakers will muck up imaging and intelligibility.

Cheers,
 

jonathan_little

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Why is it that when watching DVDs on just a TV (no surround setup), the background music is so loud, that it actually drowns out the dialog??
Does your TV or DVD player have some sort of fake surround processor that's turned on? Those things can sometimes make the 'surround' material much louder than it should be.
 

ShaunS

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I'm with Jeff on this as well. I have a DTS/5.1 receiver and a lot of the times am riding the volume button on my remote between soft dialogue and loud fx. I've tried the "Midnight" mode on the receiver, as well as the DRC effect on both the receiver and dvd player. Granted my speakers aren't the greatest, but they ALL aren't the greatest (i.e. the center and surrounds are all the same quality). I've done the "Tone Test" so that each speaker sounds at about the same volume from where I'm sitting. But no luck. My thumb muscle is HUGE from the volume button! :)

ShaunS
 

ShaunS

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Rick:

I've had it set so Midnight was on for the receiver and DRC was on for the dvd player. You would think the combo would flatten everything out to the same level, but no luck. I was watching Punch Drunk Love last night and found I had to turn it up at times of dialogue and down at times of loud fx (i.e. when the truck crashes at the start - nearly blew my speakers!!). Oh well, guess it's volume riding for me..

ShaunS
 

Glenn Overholt

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Yep, that is why the thread is here, and not in hardware. Not all DVD's are created equally. On some, you may have to
increase the volume on the center channel. If that isn't enough you may have to decrease the volume on the other channels. As an extreme you could move the center channel speaker closer to you, but I have not had to do that yet.

Glenn
 

Lou Sytsma

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I've done the "Tone Test" so that each speaker sounds at about the same volume from where I'm sitting. But no luck.
If you have done this by ear only I would be highly surprised if you have level matched your speakers.

You must get a sound meter to do this properly. I initially did my speaker settings by ear and then later picked up a sound meter. Not surprisingly my guesstimate settings were way off.

Radio Shack used to sell an analog sound meter - now I think only a digital version is available.

I cannot emphasize this enough - get a sound meter or borrow one from a friend. It will alleviate your need to be constantly adjusting the volume.
 

Rick Blaine

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Jonathan,
Thanks, your LINK hit the nail right on the head, and it is straight from the horses mouth.

This is why when ShaunS said he put the receiver in "midnight mode" and Player in DRC I was very:confused:
"midnight mode" is DRC for digital output - DRC from Player is analog outputs (always).

Ain't confusion FUN.

Rick

Repeat: the problem is in the source material - not the hardware! Try HEADPHONES?
 

Rick Blaine

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Upps! Forgot to say

DRC (Midnight mode) is in Dolby .ac3 metadata. It does not exist in DTS. Midnight mode has no effect on DTS - ever.
You will also notice that DTS never plays out of the analog outputs of the DVD Player either!

Rick
 

Felix Martinez

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Repeat: the problem is in the source material - not the hardware! Try HEADPHONES?
Dynamic range is not a problem with the source material! This perception is why music CDs over the past decade have been mastered at the last bit, killing all audio life as we know it! Radio doesn't help either...

Would you like the image contrast and colors on DVDs to be tweaked for optimum visibility in a less than ideal environment as well?

Geez, Se7en is pretty dark and desaturated...can't see it very well in the bright sunlight here in the living room with the windows open...there's something wrong with the transfer...and what's with those black bars...?

Please forgive me, but my point is that our ears need as much educating as our eyes.

Cheers,
 

Glenn Overholt

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I cannot disagree more. If what you are saying is true then every DVD that I own would have low dialogue during action sequences, and that is not ture. It is just a few of them.

No matter what/why/who/where/how sounds are captured, they still have to be mixed, by a human, and if someone says that it be set up this way, (even if it is not correct) that WILL, and DOES happen. I guess that the sound mixers should know better, but I don't want to get into all of that.

Glenn
 

David Judah

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DRC (Midnight mode) is in Dolby .ac3 metadata. It does not exist in DTS. Midnight mode has no effect on DTS - ever.
Some receiver's midnight mode affects all output including DTS, not just DD soundtracks(Pioneer Elite, for example), but of course, that is seperate from the DRC included in the DD spec.

DJ
 

Felix Martinez

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I cannot disagree more. If what you are saying is true then every DVD that I own would have low dialogue during action sequences, and that is not ture. It is just a few of them.

No matter what/why/who/where/how sounds are captured, they still have to be mixed, by a human, and if someone says that it be set up this way, (even if it is not correct) that WILL, and DOES happen. I guess that the sound mixers should know better, but I don't want to get into all of that.

Glenn
Glenn, it's fine to disagree, but really - does every film look the same? Are the same film stocks used for every film (even those from the same director)? Or are the tools used to effect depending on the film? Why would audio be any different?

Believe me there are things that give away a "poor" or compromised mix - dynamic range is not one of them. You may prefer one method over another, but that's an indication of preference, not quality.

I've had clients ask me to master something at a blisteringly hot level so that everything is equally loud - others prefer a wider dynamic range to provide air for the transients to stick out. Some clients ask me to mix background vocals a certain way, others prefer another sound. Some want a wet mix for mood, others like a dry, tight sound. I have my preferences, but the client dictates.

Filmmakers have very distinct tastes. David Lynch, for example, prefers a huge dynamic range between dialogue and the loudest sound element (the car crash in Mulholland Drive, for example). He also dislikes the liberal use of surrounds. He prefers the 80/20 rule - 80% is front soundstage, 20% surround (sometimes he's even more conservative - more like 90/10). That's just his preference. I even have a copy of his instructions to projectionists as to how MD should be framed and how the audio level should be set.

So we'll just have to agree to disagree ;)

Cheers,
 

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