Q: Why is the sound on Blu-ray discs not uniform? I’m playing them through my Samsung Blu-ray player and an HD Panasonic TV. I don’t have a sound system, just the speakers built into the TV. While the picture is excellent, the volume varies greatly.
What can I do?
A: This is a constant source of questions to my column.
The usual complaint is about commercials being louder than the TV programming, which is a function of the average volume at which the material is recorded. The loudest possible volume is the same for a TV program or a commercial, but the average volume of the commercial is much higher.
In the case of Blu-ray, you’re dealing with dynamic range — the possible volume range, from the lowest audible sound to as loud as it can get. Blu-ray has extremely wide dynamic range and the programs are recorded to take advantage of it, just as in a movie theater.
People don’t complain about dialogue being unintelligible in the movie theater. That’s because the theater has set the volume for you. Likewise, people rarely complain that the special effects are too loud. That’s because you expect it.
Think of the last time you saw an action movie in the theater. You heard the dialogue clearly, but when there were explosions, they were loud. When you play a Blu-ray at home and turn up the volume so you can clearly hear the dialogue, the special effects might blow you out of your chair, just like at the theater. Most people are not used to that at home (or their system can’t reproduce it without lots of distortion), and it has them reaching for the volume control.
People ask about a uniform sound level as if it is something they want. If the sound level were truly uniform, everything would come across as if in a monotone. Some variation in volume is desirable and natural.
You want something with less range, so soft sounds are a bit louder and louder sounds are not as loud.
Look in the player’s audio setup menu for something called “Dynamic Range Control,” and turn it on. This will bring the sounds more in proportion with one another. Your TV might also have a setting for dynamic range control, which will help those of you annoyed by loud commercials.
Legislation called CALM (commercial advertisement loudness mitigation) was passed by the FCC because of loud commercials. Although it went into effect in December of 2012, it seems we are still being blasted by loud commercials.
Between this and the HD channel fiasco going on with cable companies and basic cable encryption, it appears that some people at the FCC are asleep at the switch.