PerfectSurround have released Penteo 16 Pro as their latest upmixing plug-in, which opens up the Penteo upmixing technology to the full range of immersive formats up to 16 channels. This includes 5.1, 7.1, Dolby Atmos up to 9.1.6, Auro 3D up to 13.1, DTSX and up to 3rd order Ambisonics. What is more it is now both an upmix and a downmix plug-in in one interface and enables you to go from different channel counts and formats in the one plug-in.
Penteo 16 Pro - The Same Ethos And Sound Now Updated, Extended And Improved
For me, the core ethos of the Penteo range through the years from Penteo 3 to Pento 4 and then Penteo 7 and now Penteo 16, is that the design of their upmixing engine always gives an upmix that will be transparent and compatible when downmixed. There is not point in having a great sounding upmix, if when it is downmixed it sounds crap. The reality of what we do, especially in broadcast and OTT is that our immersive mixes must work when downmixed all the way back through stereo to mono, as the majority of our audience won’t have a full surround rig to enjoy all the fruits of our labours. The downmix compatibility is one of the main reasons I like Penteo so much and then, add to that, the simple interface and an excellent natural, unforced immersive sound and you have a winner, which is why the different iterations of the Penteo upmix plug-ins have received an Editor’s Choice Award. Now can the new Penteo 16 Pro follow in the footsteps of its predecessors?
Let’s find out by starting with the new features that are in Penteo 16 Pro…
New Features In Penteo 16 Pro
Enhanced 5.1/7.1 Surround + 16 Channel Upmixer
Upmix stereo to any combination of 16 channels (up to 9.1.6)
Upmix to 5.1 /7.1 DSP enhancements
New 3.0/3.1 Triangle, 6.0/6.1 formats
20 new stereo to Immersive upmix formats
All major formats supported: Atmos, Auro3D, DTSX
Full Ambisonics 1st, 2nd, 3rd order support for both AmbiX and FuMa
Advanced overhead channel control modes makes upmixing quick and easy
Enhancements to stereo‐to 5.1/7.1 surround upmixing
Integrated 5.1/7.1 Downmixer
5 new surround to stereo downmix formats
Uses same controls and interface as upmixer
Visualizer and Controls
Visualizer – 2D and 3D views offer a new way to visualise the immersive mix
Full and Minimal sizes – frees up screen space for large sessions
New Session management tools help speed workflow creativity
New more intuitive user interface
An Exclusive Tour Around Penteo 16 Pro
The most obvious difference when you compare Penteo 16 Pro to its predecessors, is that it is a completely different graphical user interface (GUI). Although it looks completely different all the elements that have marked out the earlier Penteo plugins are still there, and have been developed and enhanced.
Let’s start with the input section, gone are the 2 rotary input level controls to be replaced by something much more intuitive. Because Penteo 16 Pro works as a upmixer as well as the downmixer, the input channel count has gone up to 8 to support downmixing up to 7.1 sources and they have been very clever in integrating the level meter and level adjustment into the one display.
In the centre of the plugin, we have the main control section, which will be familiar to existing Penteo users, having the 3 main controls supplemented with an Upper control to determine the balance of the upmix ending in the height channels. The LFE section is presented differently, but other than that, will also be familiar to existing Penteo users.
On the right hand side is the output section, which not unsurprisingly can have up to 16 channels, uses the same clever design to integrate meters and level controls in the one display.
What this means is that the signal always travels from left to right in any instance of Penteo 16 Pro, upmix or downmix.
Moving up to the top of the plugin window, there is a dedicated session management tools section that now include presets, save/load, A|B comparisons, automatic plugin version and update notifications and access to the Settings panel.
Under the input section is a button labelled Visualizer, which opens the visualizer section, another new feature on Penteo 16 Pro. Once you have height channels you have the option of two 2D views, top down and from the back of the room, or change the right display to a 3D display which you can view from different angles as well as zoom in. The colours for each channel can be changed in the Settings window.
If you are upmixing to Ambisonics, there is a challenge on how to visualize the Ambisonics signal as the channels do not relate to speakers in ambisonics. What the designers decided to do was to use a virtual 7.1.4 speaker array to give an indication of how the sound energy is being distributed around the ambisonics soundfield as the only valid way to use the Visualizer with ambisonic formats.
Whilst we are talking Ambisonics Penteo 16 Pro supports both the AmbiX and FuMa channel orders up to 3rd order, which requires 16 channels.
Back up to the input section and you can adjust the input gain of each channel together using the line or individually by getting hold of the bar in each channel. You can also solo or mute each input channel.
In the centre section the Centre control changes the level of the synthesized discrete center channel. Above this is a drop down menu that offers 3 different centre channel modes. Default relates to Penteo Music, on previous versions of Penteo, Discrete is the new Hard Center and Composite was formerly Stereo Plus.
The Left and Right Side Surround control rebalances the balance of sound energy into or away from the side surround channels as does the Left and Right Rear Surround control for the rear surround controls. The Boost button above the side surrounds control shifts the energy from the rear surround channels into the side surrounds, which is very helpful when you want the side surrounds to be more connected to the fronts.
The LFE section replicates the LFE section in the previous Penteo plugins in a much more compact way and then we have a new control that adjusts the balance between the lower and upper channels. Above this control is a drop down menu with 4 different modes for how the sound will be directed, or not, into the upper channels. Finally the Drop Vox button, below the Uppers control, redirects centre channel content, which is usually dialog, away form the upper channels so that you don’t get dialogue coming from above.
On the right hand side, the output section mirrors the input section and has the same solo and mute options with the addition of linking bars that when enabled allow you to link sections, like the fronts, surrounds etc.
There are also gain controls, but by default the output gain controls are disabled. This is because if you adjust the output gains, you mess with the careful distribution of sound energy around the channels which is key to getting a perfect downmix. To enable the Gain controls in the output section you have to click the Gain button and then you get a warning to make sure you are aware of the consequences of adjusting the output levels. If you go ahead then the Downmix Monitor display above the output section will turn red and the percentage figure will give an indication of how compatible the downmix will be. The greater the gain change, the less compatible the downmix will be. I would strongly recommend that you stay away from adjusting the output levels as using them will compromise the downmix compatibility, but if that is less of a concern for you then you have the option to change the channel output levels.
One last button in the output section is Shelf, when you enable this, it activates a low pass filter in the upper channels to roll off the higher frequencies in the top channels, but this will not have a negative impact on the downmix compatibility, any changes made will be compensated for in the Penteo upmix algorithm.
Some existing Penteo users might be wondering where the Quad and Triangle Modes have gone. Don’t worry they are in the output dropdown menu, so you can still use the 4.0 option to spread sound effects around, as before, keeping the effects out of the centre channel or use 3.0 Triangle to place speech firmly in the Centre channel whilst other content is placed very nicely in the rear surround channels.
What We Think About Penteo 16 Pro
When Penteo 3, then Penteo 4 came out, there was very little competition, but in today’s market there are a lot more solutions around. As a result, PerfectSurround have taken this opportunity to revisit the engine, the user interface and the feature set to produce an upmix and downmix product that will meet our needs moving forward.
They have made a number of bold decisions bringing together upmixing and downmixing into one plugin, choosing to support the full range of immersive formats including, not only Dolby Atmos, but also DTSX and Auro 3D, but not satisfied with that range of supported formats, they have included support for up to 3rd order Ambisonics as well, at no extra cost.
The integration of the familiar Penteo 7, and earlier, controls, makes it much easier for existing Penteo users to get to grips with the new layout and GUI. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it comes to mind. That said, PerfectSurround have not been afraid to change things around to make it easier to use, now the plugin supports many more channels and immersive formats.
The unified format with the signal always travelling from left to right, makes it easy to understand, aided by the downmix or upmix text and arrow at the top of the main section. Simple, clean and intuitive, all things I look for in any plugin.
That said, I am not sure I like the relabelling of the modes that were on the Mode switch in earlier versions of Penteo. it is going to take me some time to remember that Default means Penteo Music, Discrete means Hard Center and Composite means Stereo Plus. The old labels told me more about what each mode did, but I guess I will get used to the new labels.
The visualizer is simple, but at the same time, very effective and the way the graphics interact almost shimmering gives a very useful visual representation of what is going on.
Recommending that Pro Tools users instantiate a stereo to 3rd order Ambisonics channel format is a very clever workaround to save users having to change plugins when you want more channels.
The integrated downmixer is a brilliant addition but it’s a shame that the Downmix section doesn’t fully match the upmix formats as currently the downmix support stops at 7.1 so it’s not possible to use the Penteo 16 Pro downmixer to downmix, for example, a Dolby Atmos 9.1.6 mix down to say 5.1 or even stereo. Let’s hope that the full range of downmix options can be added to a subsequent update.
There is no doubt that in extending the Penteo Pro plugin to cover all the formats, the user interface has lost some of its simplicity, but it’s probably an oxymoron, because adding complexity will always have an impact on simplicity. That said, all the improvements far outweigh the loss of some of the simplicity and it is very clear PerfectSurround have worked very hard to maintain the simplicity and commonality with the previous versions as much as it is possible.
In conclusion, yet again PerfectSurround have taken what was already a great plugin and made it even better, but not just a bit better but a lot better. Supporting all the main immersive formats us a smart move, but adding Ambisonics was inspired. Then to add a downmixer into the mix is incredible and bringing all of these features into one plugin is absolutely the right thing to do. There are no extras, no options, no in-app purchases, you get it all-in-one plugin and to cap it off the price is very reasonable especially when you compare it to some other similar products. All in all, there is no way I cannot give Penteo 16 Pro our Expert’s Choice Award yet again.
Get The Free Trial And Try It For Yourself
As we have mentioned, it is not really possible to demonstrate what the upmixes sound like, other than to compare the downmix of the upmix with the original stereo source, which we do in our exclusive video. However, instead we would recommend that you go to the Penteo 16 Pro website and click on the Free Trial button at the top of the page to apply for a 14 day free trial and try it for yourself on content you know.
Pento 16 Pro Price And Availability
The combined Penteo 16 Pro is available now The normal price is $499, for which you get an upmix and downmix plugin that supports the full range of immersive formats including Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D, DTSX and up to 3rd Order Ambisonics.
Penteo 16 Pro is available in AAX 64 bit format for Pro Tools as well as in VST3 format for other DAWs like Nuendo.
Even better, until October 31st 2019 you can buy Penteo 16 Pro for $399 - a saving of $100.