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Are premium, immersive streams just a dream?

The technology for lossless, immersive audio streams is available now, so where are the streaming services, asks Jonathan Reichbach, founder of Artist Connection

Delivering a lossless immersive audio streaming service isn’t easy. Many companies have tiptoed around it, but can it really be done? If so, why haven’t we seen it yet in the market?

Companies have struggled with lossless immersive streaming services for various reasons. The biggest is the high cost associated with providing such a service. Lossless immersive streaming requires significant bandwidth and cloud storage capacity, which can be expensive to maintain. Additionally, a lack of broad consumer demand for lossless immersive streaming makes it less attractive for big companies and record labels to invest in.

There is a market for lossless immersive audio streaming, and audiophiles, especially, are willing to pay for premium audio experiences. They will purchase Blu-rays at $25–$40 or download FLAC or other hi-res files from download-only sites to enjoy lossless audio. However, these solutions come at the expense of needing to locally store these files on something like network-attached storage and maintain a Blu-ray player, not to mention pay for the content itself.

Then there are the technical challenges in delivering lossless audio and video content over the public internet without any degradation in quality. Ensuring that the content remains lossless and immersive throughout the streaming process is a complex task that requires advanced technology and expertise. Few companies have cracked this code.

Immersive audio format creators, such as AURO-3D, have technology that allows lossless immersive streaming. Audio enthusiasts have already expressed interest in AURO-CX, released at CES 2024. This is AURO-3D’s Next Generation Audio Codec that delivers scalable quality, channel count, sample rate, and objects, all in one powerful bitstream, saving content creators, producers, and streaming services time and money. “Content distributors now have the flexibility to address multiple audiences using the same stream. A single stream can include high-res immersive audio for the audiophile community and lower bitrate mixes for a wider consumer audience,” says Bert Van Daele, CTO of NEWAURO BV. 

The technology for lossless immersive audio streaming is available. There is an audience interested in such a service. So what about content? There are thousands of lossless immersive tracks waiting to be enjoyed. Now, we just need the content creators to start taking notice to push the agenda of a streaming platform with the technical back end to support premium streams. A service should support both headphone and home theatre setups, meaning it should be compatible with stereo/binaural or lossless immersive audio to AV receivers.

Artist Connection, for one, supports streaming immersive audio and can marry it with high-resolution video. The platform was originally designed for approval of immersive content – allowing musicians, artists, and movie studios to remotely approve content in immersive audio without having to leave their homes. But it has other applications in pro AV, such as streaming live concerts in immersive direct from the venue. 

To prove this concept, we worked with KORG and AURO-3D to live stream a marimba concert from Japan’s Hall of Halls to a live viewing in Los Angeles in 1080p video and high-resolution lossless immersive audio, for example. By and large, it was a success. The legendary Sweetwater venue in California is now actively earning revenue off its live streams, as well. 

As for streaming content to consumers, audiophile label Pure Audio, for one, is seizing the opportunity, and will soon be making titles in full lossless immersive available on the Artist Connection platform. “For Pure Audio Blu-ray customers, streaming immersive just wasn’t possible. But finally, we will be able to stream lossless immersive audio, giving Pure Audio Blu-ray listeners the same quality they expect over the internet,” says Pure Audio Founder, Stefan Bock.

We hope to see others follow suit as the technology can make lossless streaming a reality for content producers everywhere. We will see some interesting developments at HIGH END Munich show in May on the streaming front, and look forward to having conversations with more manufacturers and content producers. The future for premium streams is bright if we dare to dream (and stream) big! .