Back before I worked with video, even back before the days of widespread digital audio, not only did we record and process voice, music -- everything -- in the analog domain, we edited it all using razor blades, splicing tape, and aluminum splicing blocks. Despite the relative simplicity of our tools, it was possible to create extremely high quality results, which some observers even today consider superior to digital versions.
Analog or digital, audio quality is crucial not only for its own sake but also for video. For most videos, the audio is at least as important as the video itself, and sometimes even more crucial.
For anyone who is an aficionado of high quality audio, it is sometimes painful to see YouTube and other videos where the audio component was an afterthought of the creators -- or in some cases, obviously really received no thought at all. Whether a fancy production or a talking heads seminar, audio almost always matters.
When Google announced Hangouts On Air (HOA) not long ago, it immediately offered -- and delivered -- the promise of providing the free ability to broadcast live programming (with automatic archival to YouTube) to virtually unlimited size audiences around the world.
When I tested HOA myself, I fairly quickly determined video settings that would deliver optimally smooth video for the sorts of productions I've had in mind. These are not always obvious, however. For example, if you're dealing with that aforementioned "talking heads" case, local video generation at frame sizes as small as 320 x 180, and frame rates as low as 15 fps, may for some configurations provide the smoothest display for viewers, while still looking quite good as a fullscreen 16:9 image. This will vary depending on the specifics of your application, of course.
Other factors, such as using a separate device to monitor your generated HOA stream (e.g., another PC, a Google TV box, etc.) -- unless you've really got enough cycles to spare on your transmitting system -- are also relevant.
But frankly, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed in some respects with the audio quality that Hangouts On Air provided.
The audio was completely intelligible. It was utterly reasonable for a video chat.
However, no matter how much processing technology I threw at the problem locally, I could not obtain results with music that I considered acceptable, and I would have preferred (for one-to-many broadcasts at least) higher voice quality as well in some situations.
Reluctantly, I shelved a number of concepts I had originally intended for HOA.
It appeared possible that this situation might have changed a few days ago, when Google announced the rolling out of a new "Studio" high quality audio option for HOA, specifically oriented toward music.
This afternoon I reran my original HOA tests using this new mode, and the results were really quite excellent indeed.
Basically, in Studio mode virtually all of the audio problems I faced with the original HOA (now termed "Voice") mode are gone. I now feel comfortable in producing programming for distribution via HOA that is suitable for music and mixed-mode content, not only voice. It may not be what we nebulously call "broadcast quality" audio -- but it's damned good. To paraphrase an old saying, it's better than enough for jazz!
The HOA Voice/Studio toggle selection should appear on the HOA settings page (click on the gear icon) after you start a Hangout On Air (but before you actually begin broadcasting it). If the toggle does not appear, the most likely cause is that you're running an older Google Talk plugin, which can be updated at: https://www.google.com/chat/video.
Remember that all programming you broadcast via Hangouts On Air is subject to real-time Content ID scanning (as on YouTube). Content ID hits will interrupt your broadcast and prevent its archival to YouTube.
If you'd like to hear examples of the audio quality resulting from HOA Studio mode, a short segment of my testing today (archived automatically to YouTube) is online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBqrs9yJAvI.
Be warned, it's not very exciting at all -- just my standard color bars graphic and an audio loop containing several different sorts of content that I've found useful for testing in various situations. But it may be adequate to demonstrate that Hangouts On Air have definitely moved to a new stage in their evolution. Any glitches audible in this test video are the result of my actively adjusting various parameters during the transmission itself.
Given that Hangouts On Air showed enormous potential for "disrupting" key aspects of traditional broadcasting even from day one of their deployment, the possibilities now in play given the availability of higher quality HOA audio will likely be even more dramatic.