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Spatial Audio: XR Today Expert Round Table

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Spatial audio, a key component of virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VR/AR/MR) headsets, enhances immersion with hyper-realistic multi-directional sound, improves real-time response, and improves training outcomes. , leading to increased depth of the gaming experience.

Several major companies have begun looking into adding spatial audio using third-party solutions compatible with major headset manufacturers, giving enthusiasts more freedom of choice.

The XR Today Round Table welcomes:

  • Ben Weekes, Senior Architect and Principal Software Engineer, Agora
  • Raghu Bathina, CEO and Co-Founder of Conquest VR

Conquest VR is a spatial audio headset maker whose solutions are integrated with Meta Quest, HTC VIVE, Pico Interactive and Varjo headsets.

Which demographics are likely to adopt spatial audio and why is it key to building the best immersive experiences?

Ben Weeks: Employing spatial audio should be seen as a way to make the metaverse more immersive, rather than an individual technology adopting it itself. That said, Agora recently released data that nearly half of Gen Z consumers have never even heard of spatial audio.

Especially for this younger generation who grew up digitally, spatial audio can be seen as an obvious part of digital interaction, such as participating in open-world games and communicating directly with people nearby. Conversely, people may have to deal with lack of education in the market.

Spatial audio is key to building immersive experiences. Because spatial audio can make or break something as “real” as possible. We see these metaverse concepts of sitting in a virtual conference room where everyone is wearing a VR headset, but when the audio is static and centered, it’s like sitting in the same room with other people. Spatial audio makes people turn their heads to listen and pay attention to others. This is where the realism of this technology really shines.

Lagu Batina: A significant percentage of the country’s 40.9 million hardcore gamers and most VR users, the majority of whom are between the ages of 18 and 34.

To paraphrase George Lucas, audio is 50% of the experience. Non-spatialized audio puts the sound in the center of your head, while stereo puts the sound in your left and right ears only.

Spatialized audio places sound around you, providing a more realistic experience and increasing the feeling of presence and immersion. We have created a white paper on how realistic audio affects gameplay.

This paper shows how spatial audio can improve task performance, such as measuring subjects’ accuracy in navigation tasks and their ability to identify objects appearing in the space around them. Studies have shown that spatial audio has significantly improved performance compared to other sound types.

Are there enough consumer and enterprise hardware options to support the spatial audio market, or is the technology still in its infancy?

Ben Weeks: VR headsets are one of the main ways to experience spatial audio at the moment, and they’ve been around for a while. However, we have not yet seen this hardware being widely adopted.

The technology exists, but the high price tag and limited experience currently used in VR headsets are barriers to adoption. As the development of the metaverse and VR games progresses, we will find that hardware supply and demand are evenly matched.

Lagu Batina: VR has headsets with speakers built into the Head Mounted Display (HMD) harness. They offer a taste of spatial audio, but often lack richness and bass. However, quality headphones are available as an add-on to support the spatial audio requirements of these devices. Headsets with dedicated on-ear or off-ear headphones can also support spatial audio well.

Good spatial audio starts with the developer. Both free and commercial audio spatializers are available to create immersive sound environments. There is also an Immersive Audio course that teaches you how to use these spatializers. Taking advantage of these resources requires extra effort, and audio is sometimes added in a rush because there is no budget left for audio and the focus is on visuals, so be sure to properly Applied spatial audio is not seen in most games.

How can spatial audio help educate, train, and upskill people?

Ben Weeks: A virtual workspace or virtual education is hard to find mainstream success without immersion. Spatial audio is a key component for achieving human-centered experiences.

It’s no secret that when people video conferencing in packed conference rooms and classrooms, they miss out on the typical social interaction that accompanies each scenario, and even lose the opportunity to contribute as impartially as they would with their face-to-face counterparts. That’s a worthwhile discussion.

Having reference points and specific locations in virtual space levels the playing field, and spatial audio makes these experiences feel like real interactions.

Lagu Batina: Spatial audio is essential for training and skill development. We live in a 3D world, but how do we properly train our employees to work in a 3D world without 3D sound? Train faster, retain more knowledge, and learn skills faster.

Gamers can gain a competitive edge with immersive audio by finding allies and foes faster. Patients benefit from immersive audio because the more compelling the VR medical experience, the more effective the VR intervention. Companies can also benefit greatly from well-designed and delivered immersive audio, as it can directly impact retention rates and trainee performance.

How are newer headsets like the Quest Pro and Pico 4 contributing to the rapid adoption of spatial audio technology?

Ben Weeks: Spatial audio is already accessible from many traditional applications. But the metaverse and VR space are where technology is used in the most interesting ways. These new VR headsets are a continual innovation in a product line that has been around for a while, and will see more consumer adoption as new features continue to be added to VR headsets.

These advances will bring various spatial audio technologies to fruition, helping businesses and consumers alike maximize the potential of VR headsets. Whether for work, education, or gaming, spatial audio and VR headsets leverage other innovations to ultimately become better end-user products.

Lagu Batina: As companies continue to embed speakers into support straps, they are severely limiting the design and audio output of headsets and HMDs.

Stereophonic sound is a prerequisite for creating a sense of presence. It remains to be seen how well these devices’ built-in audio works, and whether it can be enhanced with additional headphones that make the experience more engaging.

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