Audio for VR is important, especially for audio people. For us it’s really important — but how important will it be to your everyday developer?
Before we dive into that, a quick back-story:
VR has been around in one form or another for decades, but computing power has only recently caught up to our dreams & allowed people (not at technology institutes) access to head mounted displays & experience fabricated worlds in stereoscopic 3D.
It’s an exciting time for technology right now because it feels like everything from camera technology, to story-telling techniques to graphics cards have a new goal: Be the VR standard. Be first, be the best & most importantly: be the one that everyone uses.
No one can decide what this new industry needs most but everyone agrees we need:
• Stronger, cheaper, faster, smaller hardware,
• compelling content &
• amazing software tools that can make that content.
Right now, HMDs are too tethered, too bulky, or too low-fi. The untethered HMDs need to improve on display size, fidelity or frame-rate. Tethered HMDs need to lose the cords & improve on the bulky peripherals.
As far as software, right now it’s mostly loaners from other industries. Video game engines are scrambling to jump over from screen-based-technology into the VR / MxR world as are video & animation suites.
Internet and broadcast channels are trying to figure out how to stream such beefy content to customer’s VR rigs over terrestrial networks while content makers are trying to figure out how to capture & cast mixed reality content for social consumption.
So what does any of this have to do with audio? Nothing & everything.
Audio has always been the most mysterious of the artistic disciplines. Lay people understand the least about how it is done & it generally works best if no one notices it.
People are always amazed & perplexed when told that generally 100% of what they hear in movies is designed after the shoot & that what is recorded on set is almost always unusable.
Live sound is also assumed to ‘just happen’, thinking that Jack White alone is responsible for delivering that guitar sound to seat 12d & that there isn’t a myriad of amplifiers, speakers, outboard gear & voltage controlled oscillators finely tuned to transfer the sound from the stage talent to the patron.
Studio music production dives the deepest into the nuances of audio production of for no other reason than it is standalone & has no other media (visual or otherwise) to support it.
Game audio is perhaps the most complex example of effortless sounding intricacy in that the user influences the sound through input opposed to the one-way audio flow of passive media.
Or at least it was the most complex before VR. Audio for virtual reality takes all of the aforementioned challenges & adds one new, unexplored exponential complexity: presence.
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!