Science & Tech

One Man, One Team, and the Sound of Chinese TV

There is nothing quite like the Chinese TV market. More than 3,000 channels broadcast to the more than 375,000,000 TV sets in the homes of the nation’s 1.4 billion people. And yet, despite the sheer size and scale of this market, the beautiful sound quality of its broadcast TV market is largely the result of just one man—and his small team.

This story begins prior to 2014, when Chinese TV featured very little broadcasting in Dolby 5.1-surround sound. To help address this issue and bring new value to content creators, broadcasters, and Chinese consumers alike, Dolby created the Dolby Champions Program. The program goal was to train participants in the art of mixing Dolby 5.1-surround sound. Program participants included individuals from many of the most influential Chinese TV stations and broadcast companies. To lead the training, Dolby reached out to one of the finest audio engineers in the world, John Harris.

John Harris is an artist, an innovator, and a generous resource for audio professionals who are eager to learn.

Transforming the sound of Chinese TV
In his distinguished, award-winning career, there are few honors that John Harris has not received. He is a multiple Grammy, Emmy, and Peabody Award winner. Among his most notable achievements, Harris was the music mixer for the music industry’s most prestigious awards, the GRAMMYsⓇ, for 26 consecutive years. In 2002, the Dolby Customer Success and Support Team joined forces with Harris and his sound mixing team when the GRAMMY Awards first began broadcasting live in Dolby Digital 5.1.

Harris and the Dolby Champions Program team began their work in 2014. In just two years, the results of the program training were already evident as more than 30 Chinese programs were being created in Dolby 5.1-surround sound. Today, program alumni are moving to stations and broadcast companies across China, and playing an influential role in creating an increasing amount of new surround sound programming.

The biggest Chinese TV stations have registered the popularity of their new broadcast sound quality. They are continually promoting the new audio quality by displaying the Dolby logo and surround sound graphics in their programming. And the momentum continues unabated as more Chinese TV stations adopt Dolby 5.1-surround sound on a daily basis.

A reunion of the teacher and his class
This past year, the story of Harris and the Dolby Champions Program came full circle. Jin Shaogang, the audio director for the live music featured in Sing! China!, a popular reality TV singing competition modeled on the American program The Voice, invited Harris to return to Beijing to work on the finale of Sing! China! with several of his former students from the Dolby Champions Program.

John Harris reunites with his Dolby Champions Program participants in Beijing.

Sing! China! began broadcasting in Dolby Digital 5.1 in its very first season. For this season’s finale, the show’s fifth, Shaogang asked Harris to support the live production because of Harris’ role in the previous year’s GRAMMY Awards, which Shaogang and his team attended. In early October 2016, the Chinese streaming service streamed the show’s finale live in Dolby Digital Plus to more than 40 million viewers on their Android and iOS mobile platforms.

Following the broadcast, Harris enjoyed a happy reunion with his former students from the Dolby Champions Program. He shared with them his insights on mixing music and the state of sound in the Chinese broadcast industry. It made for a fitting end for the man who did more than any other to make that sound quality world-class.