This study examines the impact of changes in audio quality on viewer perceptions of the television viewing experience. A sample of 367 mass audience viewers recruited from a shopping mall were randomly assigned to conditions which included low fidelity vs. high fidelity, monaural vs. stereo and three types of television programming. Viewers watched a series of short video clips with varying audio quality and asked to rate their liking, level of interest and psychological involvement in the programming and asked to evaluate picture and audio quality. Our mass audience subjects did not prove to be very discriminating. They had a difficult time distinguishing mono from stereo and even low fidelity from high fidelity sound. In a mono/stereo comparison 41% preferred stereo, 34% preferred mono and 24% heard no difference. In the low fidelity-high fidelity test 43% preferred high fidelity, 27% preferred low fidelity and 30% heard no difference. The strongest differences in preference were apparent in comparing low fidelity mono to high fidelity stereo television audio. We conclude that high fidelity television audio and stereo imaging need to be introduced in tandem in order to have significant psychological impact on untrained audience members. As an interesting sidelight, we discovered that video with better quality and stereo sound were consistently rated as more likable, interesting and involving. Viewers also rated programming with better audio as having higher picture quality, but this occurred in only one of the three test programs we ran.
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