When Netflix approached Ball State University with the opportunity to participate in a specialized research project analyzing the streaming service’s complete catalog, Paige Turner, dean of College of Communication, Information and Media, jumped at the chance. Working collaboratively between the University’s School of Music, College of Telecommunications and Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, Ball State conducted a wide array of loudness dialogue tests and measurements. To further ensure the project’s success, the school utilized NUGEN Audio’s Loudness Toolkit – especially the VisLM plug-in.
First initiated by a Netflix employee who is a former student of a Ball State professor, the research will be compiled into a white paper to be presented to audiologists and recording engineers alike. “We had a lot of meetings to narrow down what Netflix was looking for and determine who would be best-suited for the project,” says Dr. Christoph Thompson, recording engineer and assistant professor of music media production at Ball State University. “On the personnel side, we decided to have students from our Music and Telecommunications schools work alongside professional recording engineers, as well as with scientists and audiologists who could oversee the clinical and subjective assessments. From a technical standpoint, we narrowed down what tools we would need and determined that NUGEN was among those that would work best. Since then, due to its reliability, consistency and ease of use across the board, NUGEN has become the gold standard.”
"From a technical standpoint, we narrowed down what tools we would need and determined that NUGEN was among those that would work best."
The decision to utilize NUGEN for the research project initially came directly from the source. “One of the head engineers at Netflix put a lot of trust into the NUGEN Audio VisLM software, and he recommended we get that, along with the complete NUGEN Loudness Toolkit,” adds Thompson. “We used VisLM to measure dialogue loudness of the complete Netflix catalog; it became a vital tool for us.”
To accomplish its goal, the team had students from Thompson's Music Media and Production, and Stan Sollars' Telecommunications classes, perform subjective listening tests while also evaluating the transparency threshold of some of the streaming codecs. The tests were administered by students from the department of speech pathology and audiology under the supervision of hearing scientists Lauren Shaffer and Lynn Bielski.
“Netflix bases its loudness regulations and settings around the best consumer experience, and recently began focusing a great deal of attention on dialogue loudness,” adds Thompson. The platform’s engineers’ objective is to perfect dialogue loudness to avoid having the consumer adjust the volume, thereby keeping them engaged in the viewing experience. This research project is the result of Netflix’s desire to evaluate how well its catalog of movies and shows currently conforms to its own loudness standards.”
From an educational perspective, Thompson says the NUGEN software is a standout as well. “While working on the Netflix project, we also incorporated NUGEN into our teachings and quickly came to appreciate how awesome it is,” he says. “After I worked with it two or three times, I realized that it was so straight forward and no nonsense that it would be perfect in the classroom, so I started using it as a teaching tool; the students responded to it better than any other loudness tools.”
"One of the head engineers at Netflix put a lot of trust into the NUGEN Audio VisLM software, and he recommended we get that, along with the complete NUGEN Loudness Toolkit."
As a recording engineer, Thompson says, “VisLM also very quickly replaced my previous loudness meter and is now my go-to solution. The presets, histogram layout, presets and specialized Netflix preset are all great, but then you also have all these standards that I can pull out quickly. It’s just seamless in how it integrates into our workflow; very no-nonsense, which I like. When I work now, it’s always on my master bus, and it’s in combination with everything I do. It’s literally the last plug-in in my master bus.”
With courses that range from introductory to high-level recording – which includes everything from planning and recording through mastering and delivering – Thompson’s educational teachings run the gamut. “Our senior-level recording seminar requires students to produce an entire album, and it’s one of the classes where NUGEN is especially important,” he says. “Since the standard is now to master music not only for CD but for all streaming platforms, it’s very important for students to have a reliable, loudness analyzer like VisLM. I also teach various research classes where we do projects – like the one for Netflix, for which we use NUGEN as a teaching tool. NUGEN has truly become essential for Ball State’s production and recording curriculum across the board.”
"VisLM also very quickly replaced my previous loudness meter and is now my go-to solution. The presets, histogram layout, presets and specialized Netflix preset are all great."
A former DJ and hip hop artist who worked with Def Jam Records, Thompson first transitioned to performance and composition – for which he has graduate and doctoral degrees – before making the leap to engineering. After completing his doctorate, Thompson accepted a position as engineer and professor at Ball State and has continued to shape the minds of future musical pros ever since.
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