U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., has sponsored a bill that would "preclude commercials from being broadcast at louder volumes than the program material they accompany."
The too-loud-commercial problem is the bane of TV watchers' existence: The actual show is set at a reasonable volume, and then before you know it Vince Shlomi is screaming at you about how you'll love his nuts, forcing you to fiddle with the volume. When the show comes back on you've missed something because it started too quiet and you didn't turn it back up in time.
The Register notes that there are already rules in place controlling ad volume levels in Britain. Expect Congress to take note of whether they work or not. The rules came into force in 2008.
The problem, as many geeks know, is not actually volume. Rather, it's something called "digital range compression." As I understand it, program sound is recorded with a wide range of volumes, from quiet to din-like. But commercials want to stand out from shows, so they compress the range of volumes within them so that all the sounds in the commercial are in the upper, louder, range. Thus ads aren't actually louder, they're just continuously as loud as the loudest part of the show you were watching.
Here's an example, from "sptrout" in the Hi Def Forum bulletin boards:
Funny story, but I worked in the Master Control room of a TV station 35 years ago and I had my hand on the master transmit volume control every day. The actual levels were always within FCC limits, but people still complained about commercials being higher in level. I knew that they were not. However, the way they were recorded made them "sound" louder even though the actual level transmitted was not.If you don't want to wait for Congress to reach across your coffee table to hit mute for you (and seriously, this bill may well fall into the "Doesn't Congress Have Better Things to Do?" file), you can buy the $49.95