Tonal Vision: Engaging Sound in the World of VR, Part 4

VR is no longer the industry’s “next big thing” — it’s the big thing. Google, Facebook, Sony, and Samsung have all made investments in the technology; there’s murmuring that social VR will completely change how we interact with each other; a new data from Manatt Digital Media reports that virtual and augmented reality are expected to generate approximately $150 billion in revenue by the year 2020. Virtual reality is here. But what about the audio?

The hallmark of VR is its ability to transport us to a different world — to immerse us in a virtual environment that allows us to lose ourselves in the simulated surroundings. But does VR really work without sound? Sound is all around us — it’s part of the fabric of our existence. It affects our experiences; it is critical to our perception and understanding of our surroundings.

VR creates an alternate reality, but can we really believe the trick without corresponding sound? Can we immerse ourselves in a beach environment without hearing the crash of the waves, the screech of seagulls? Can we feel transported to a city if we don’t hear the bustle of traffic, the diminishing whir of a train reaching its stop? Can we feel engulfed in a virtual warzone without the rumbling of a mortar and the clicks of gunfire?

“If you consume virtual reality without having sound…it’s [only] half the experience,” says Uwe Cremering, director of global marking communications and co-project lead for AMBEO.

The solution? Three-dimensional audio

3D audio technology creates the illusion that sound is coming from varying distances and directions through motion sensors, strategically placed at different points on headsets. These sensors track user movements and adjust sound accordingly, creating a fully realistic sound experience. The spatial simulation of sound, coupled with the motion sensors, produces an unparalleled artificial sound environment, which, when paired with the immersive visual experience of VR, creates a complete virtual experience.

So — is 3D audio the future of virtual reality? 3D Sound Labs began crowdfunding the first 3D audio headphones on Kickstarter in 2015; the headphones can currently be bought on their website for $249.00. Built for music, videos, and gaming along with VR, the technology may actually pose another question: Is 3D audio the future of audio?

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