(expanded thoughts from a thread about VR on a forum for game audio pros)
The State of Things
I believe strongly in VR, but since there’s no real consumer market right now (outside of Gear VR and Cardboard) and the main focus has been on tech demos and marketing experiences, it feels a bit far down the road yet.
In terms of surround standards, it’s hard for me to imagine a speaker based setup, even with room scale like Vive has, but never say never, right? I also haven’t heard a 5.1 headphone worth it’s weight in salt. From where I sit, the focus for audio in VR is 3D and binaural audio for stereo headphones; real time processing with HRTF, 3D panning (ambisonic or object based), etc. Not much different than what we in game audio are already working on, but it’s great having tools like the ones Jamey mentioned (Astound, 3DCeption, etc.) and the competition heating up will only benefit us content creators.
360 Video VR vs. 3D Rendered VR
That said, there’s a confusing split in the presentation of VR content that needs to be cleared up for devs: there’s 360 Video based VR content and and there is 3D rendered VR content.
The solutions that do take into account positional audio for 360 video are limited to using location recordings with ambisonic panning or something similar or Dolby Atmos VR object based model. 3D rendered content is a lot easier for us game devs to grasp because we already work with game engines positioning emitters.
And let’s be honest, it’s great having higher quality and more efficient HRTF processing and occlusion, but we’ve had some form of those at one point or another for years. It’s not new.
The Best Content for VR?
Which brings me to my last point! Form vs. function. Regardless of the technology, the key to VR will be, as it is with all media: the content that gets created needs to be appropriate for the medium. Just making a game or a movie for a VR headset doesn’t make it good VR content. Content designed for VR will make the best VR content.
My Experience with VR
I was audio lead on ‘Insurgent – Shatter Reality’ (available for Gear VR, Oculus, and more), a VR experience created by Kite & Lightning and Cory & Ikrima of K&L did something really amazing with this project: they showed the way forward. By blending 4k video and 3D rendered environments, they created a truly interactive experience that uses video of actor performances. I’m not suggesting that video is better than animated 3D models, but that it’s about blurring the lines between passive entertainment and interactive entertainment. You can check out a video capture of the experience on my demo reel.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on VR in general or specifically audio for VR. Drop me a line or reach out to me on Twitter.
Audio Director, echo.haus
Photo Credit: Ats Kurvet – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,