What is MPEG-H?
We were recently told that a Samsung soundbar was compatible with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and MPEG-H. We know Atmos and DTS:X, of course, and the third commonly considered immersive sound format Auro-3D. But what is MPEG-H?
Not new, it turns out, developed from 2014 as part of a full audio-video standard, of which the audio compression standard has been vying with Dolby AC-4 for adoption within the new ATSC 3.0 broadcast standards. While Dolby has the edge with AC-4 for use in the States, MPEG-H was adopted in South Korea for its launch of ATSC 3.0 last year, which may explain why the main brands known to consider it are LG, which licensed MPEG-H for its 2017 TV models (according to the MPEG-H Audio Alliance), and now momentarily (see below) Samsung. MPEG-H Audio is also part of the DVB A/V codec specification.
[UPDATE: During CES in January 2019, Sony announced '360 Reality Audio', a new object-based mixing and playback system for music, which will be based on MPEG-H. Sony claimed the involvement of Deezer, Qobuz, TIDAL and others. Clearly this earlier MPEG-H primer article should be read in the context of this new announcement, notably its 'will it, won't it succeed' tone. With Sony's announcement, it seems very likely it will! Our first article on '360 Reality Audio' can be read HERE.]
While Dolby is likely the preferred option for Europe, too, MPEG-H is gaining traction there, tested during the 2018 French Open by France Télévisions and the French Tennis Federation, in collaboration with TDF and FRANSAT, a subsidiary of Eutelsat, where MPEG-H was encoded over DVB-T2 and satellite during the tennis tournament and included in the regular live Ultra HD broadcast from the Philippe Chatrier court from May 27th to June 10th.
Its goal is to provide a next-generation open audio standard, where ‘open’ means “fair pricing” and “an extensive community of open standards developers”… to ensure “ easy and transparent access and a quick development of a whole ecosystem of devices for professionals as well as for consumers.”
As with Atmos and other immersive coding systems, objects are combined with ‘beds’ (traditional channels), in order to scale the sound experience to the system available, be it home theatre, VR, stereo headphones, smartphones or tablet audio. A third inclusion appears to be scene-based coding based on Ambisonics, encoding a spatially compressed set of signals that describe a sound source’s direction by means of their relative amplitudes and polarities. This positions MPEG-H as an audio standard ready for the growing realms of VR applications.
As a single technology for all applications, MPEG-H is designed to work in streaming systems and broadcast systems; it is for the latter as the selected codec for ATSC 3.0 standard broadcasts that it has been adopted in South Korea. MPEG-H Audio is also part of the DVB A/V codec specification.
MPEG-H is being commercialised by the MPEG-H Audio Alliance of Fraunhofer, Technicolor, and Qualcomm. The licensing program is based on a per-unit royalty starting at US99c per unit, falling to 15c with volume, and with annual volume discounts for manufacturers of both professional and consumer hardware and software. No patent royalty will apply to the content as such.
Fraunhofer also operates the MPEG-H TV Audio System trademark program without fees or charges, though manufacturers are responsible for testing fees charged by independent authorised test centres required to use the logo shown here. The website listing of available consumer devices is currently blank - we had hoped to find Samsung's N950 in there, but the local PR company later contacted us to say that this doesn't support MPEG-H after all.
HOWEVER at IFA 2018, Sennheiser told us that its AMBEO soundbar will be MPEG-H compatible. If and when it launches.... [UPDATE: A May 2019 launch was finally confirmed during CES 2019; it is also confirmed locally for Australia at $3499. The bar can currently be previewed by appointment in Sennheiser's new Martin Place store.]