From Beyoncé’s Lemonade to VR games, virtual reality is becoming a fixture of the entertainment industry. It has given rise to the era of 360-degree videos, on YouTube and elsewhere. These videos immerse you into the recording and make you feel a part of it. Beyond the video though, the audio side of the equation is just as important, and 360-degree sound recording is a growing trend for this reason.
As VR content continues to grow, one concern for VR and 360 content creators is recording 360-degree audio that can fully immerse viewers in an environment. Therefore, with developments in technology, audio brands are now focusing on products that have the ability to capture immersive sound, as the human ear would perceive in a natural environment.
Your brain responds to sound faster than any other sense, so sound and music cues direct attention, trigger emotions, and guide participants in very powerful ways – organising all your other senses together. Today’s consumers are accustomed to capturing incredibly realistic videos, yet as mainstream technology makes immersive visual experiences ever more accessible, the power and emotion of this footage is too often let down by the quality of sound that these devices can capture. Thus it is safe to say that 3D audio adds to the feeling of presence that we strive so hard to achieve with just visuals in VR.
3D audio completes the illusion of being somewhere else. It is currently used to 'spatialise' sound and music in 3D soundscapes, usually perceived through binaural input (earbuds). Now, you might be thinking, "that’s nothing new, earbuds have been around for ages!" But the real innovation is the spatialised quality of 3D audio, with devices that know your position in space – and the good news is that these devices are already ubiquitous.
In the last generation of VR experiences, when you turned your head to the left or the right, the sound and music remained the same, instantly signalling to your brain that you are wearing headphones, and the illusion of ‘being there’ was broken. But spatialised audio triggers a completely different experience. Now when you whip your head back and forth across the visual field, the soundtrack seems to stay in a fixed point in space.
This effectively completes the illusion for your brain that you are somewhere else – moving through a new space, where objects and sounds have true permanency. While the technology for seamless high-resolution videos continues to grow, the sound technology is already full-resolution and – if you will – picture perfect.
Presently, with the bulk of content being consumed on mobile devices, 3D spatialised audio can work to elevate these early-stage activations to world-class experiences, all that’s necessary is a great pair of headphones. Since the spatialised audio is the true heavy lifter for ‘completing the illusion of being there’, it can make an experience just as captivating even with the limited display area of a smartphone.
In order to adapt to this new innovation, audio giants these days are focusing on creating products that will not only help us experience 3D sound but will also focus on capturing sound for binaural recording identical to the way our human ears do. Sound experiences are not just a matter of the right vibration and resonance – it also must involve understanding people and being able to put them in direct contact with the sound they want to hear.
Unlike with the visuals, 3D audio is not limited to the field of view of the display as using a 3D audio cue, it is possible to steer the user’s attention to look in the direction of the sound, similar to techniques that are used in live theater.
To do so and create a 360-degree VR experience for the end consumers it is important to play attention to the technology that goes into making it-right from capturing to the processing/ mixing. More than half of the work is resolved if the technology while producing the content is focused upon. Choosing right tools and techniques will save up the editing time and make you more productive as 3D audio applied to any advertisement or experience, even while peering into their phone, will help your viewer to become transported into the experience.
Vipin Pungalia is Director, Professional for segment, Sennheiser India.