Dolby hears auds, tones down

SYDNEY — Ever felt that trailers screened in cinemas are an assault on your eardrums (if not sometimes an insult to your intelligence)?

According to a recent study in California, lots of moviegoers say the volume of trailers is too loud — and this from a group of college students who are notorious for playing music at maximum levels.

The U.S. majors agree that noisy trailers are a problem and are working with Dolby Laboratories to find a solution. Coincidentally, Dolby has been huddling with the Screen Advertising World Assn., the body which reps screen advertising contractors, to eliminate over-raucous blurbs.

The desired outcome: a uniform sound level for features, trailers and commercials.

Dolby is liaising with a Hollywood task force called Trailer Audio Standards Agreement (TASA).

The majors acknowledge their films suffer when projectionists turn down the volume for trailers — and the sound level stays down for the feature, according to Tim Partridge, Dolby director of film distribution.

Dolby conducted a “pyscho-acoustic” experiment on behalf of TASA before a screening of “Con Air” at USC’s Norris Theater in September. The 334 participants — with an average age of 20 — were asked to rank trailers on a scale from “way too soft” through “normal volume” to “way too loud.”

The responses indicated the majority felt the trailers were too loud, Partridge says.

“Help me, I’m deaf,” griped one 18-year-old guy, who rated six trailers as above “way too loud.”

TASA has asked Dolby to supply hardware to measure “apparent loudness” and to help establish new standards for audio presentation. Partridge expects to have a meter for measuring loudness available next spring and to have a new standard in place by the fall.

“The goal is not to make everything sound the same level, nor to make everything quieter, but to reduce the level of the really loud bits,” Partridge said.

SAWA president Terry Savage says he expects his members will endorse the new standard for their screen ads to ensure there is a uniform sound level in theaters.

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