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Why 3D Audio in Virtual Reality ? An immersive question

The Virtual Reality community has come to realize that the immersion cannot be only visual. Two other modalities are also needed to achieve a plausible immersion: Gesture Interaction and Sound!

July 14, 2016 – 11:00 – 3D Sound Labs
 

The rational is rather simple: to fool the brain into a proper situational awareness, Sound, Gestures and Visuals need to be consistent with each other! This has led to the development of positional tracking systems such as Lighthouse (HTC) and Constellation (Oculus), hand controllers and 3D Audio, particularly, in virtual reality

3D audio is therefore extremely important in VR. Not only it heavily contributes to building this valuable notion of “Presence”, but it also provides control over the viewer experience, and means to convey emotions.

 

1. Presence

In a nutshell: no or poor 3D audio means no presence in VR. Presence in VR is about tricking the mind into believing you are “there”. You can check its definition on Wikipedia here but we prefer the definition proposed by Chris Hegstrom in a great article that explains why audio is so important to a VR experience:
“ Presence is the fundamental difference between:

– wow that’s a really cool giant bug idle animation in that video game
&
– holy $#!+ there’s a giant bug towering over me! “

 

2. Control of the viewer experience

In 2D video, a film director uses the visual frame of the camera as a window on the world to show you a particular part or scene: you are guided in the story! In VR or video360, this concept does not work anymore: the viewer can look wherever he wants and is not constrained by the camera frame of the film director. That is why VR content makers rely heavily on 3D Audio to draw the viewer’s attention into the direction where the story takes place and develops. One’s angle of view is limited and 3D audio is about the only way to interact with the viewer in 360 Video!

 

3. Emotions

As all film directors will tell you, sound is 50% of the experience. It is where the emotion comes from: sound is what makes you cry or laugh. This has become even more relevant in VR as the spatial dimension of sound helps to reinforce some emotions. Closed space or wide open range acoustics and the nature of reverberation will contribute to build different emotions. Positioning sound at the back will be scarier than in front. The distance of the sound sources will also participate to the overall emotional experience you want to create. 3D Audio is a new but powerful tool to play with for the sound mixers to build the emotional impact of a VR scene.

 

Conclusion

Not only 3D Audio is compulsory to experience Presence in a Virtual Reality experience, but it can also improve the user experience in several ways. We believe that Audio is much more important in virtual reality than in traditional 2D video entertainment.

And last but not least, paying attention to audio is never a bad thing as several academic studies have demonstrated that the overall perceived quality of a content is strongly related to actual audio!

virtual reality, vr, vr audio headset, immersion, 3d audio, 3d sound labs

Want to know more about 3D Audio and Virtual Reality?
You can read this article: 3D Audio formats for VR