Tuesday 15 March 2016

Sennheiser's 3D audio for VR feels totally natural

Sennheiser announced its 3D audio platform AMBEO back at CES this year, and today at SXSW I got a chance to try a VR demo and see how it sounds. Using a standard pair of headphones and a stock Gear VR, I was transported into a church where a lone piano player was seated a few feet in front of me. As she began to play, I looked all around the virtual room -- and the audio mix adjusted on the fly, no matter how I moved, to keep the piano's audio rooted exactly where it should be in the virtual space.

It wasn't a terribly dramatic demo, but it didn't need to be. All Sennheiser really needs to show is that when I turn around, the piano's audio felt like it was coming from behind me instead of in front of me. That simplicity belies the complex engineering needed to make this work. It starts with a virtual reality microphone the company is producing and expects to launch this year. It looks like a fairly standard mic, but mount it to a 3D camera and you'll be able to record audio that moves along with your video.

Then there's all the post-processing needed to make this work. Sennheiser is working on a suite of tools to let you mix the audio and sync it up with the video as needed, though that will come a bit later than the mic's planned Q3 2016 launch.

That combo of hardware and software means AMBEO really is a platform for making VR more realistic using Sennheiser's particular audio expertise. It's something VR sorely needs, and the demo I saw today made me think back to all the VR demos I've tried this far and wonder how the audio worked in them. It certainly wasn't something that stood out to be, because I was too busy being awed visually. But as VR filmmaking inches closer to the mainstream, audio solutions like this are entirely necessary.

It's entirely different technology than Samsung's experimental Entrim 4D headphones I tried yesterday. Those use electrical impulses to stimulate your ear into feeling a sense of motion, but the audio was bog -standard. However, combining those two technologies would likely yield some of the most immersive VR we've seen thus far. That said, as realistic and natural as this demo was, it was also very basic. I'm looking forward to seeing full 360-degree audio in much more sonically complicated demos than what I tried today.

Read the full article here by Engadget

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