Oculus announced today at CES the full implementation and upcoming release of high-fidelity audio for their flagship VR headset, the Crescent Bay. Simultaneously they mentioned a forthcoming VR Audio SDK to enable developers to take full advantage of realistic 3D audio spatialization.

HRTF visualization via LIDAR

Audio is Key to Presence

If you want to feel how important audio is to a compelling and realistic immersive experience, just go to any busy street corner and close your eyes for 60 seconds. You will get a fairly good impression of what’s going on. Additionally, if you concentrate, you will be able to get a good idea of where things are in 3d space : cars, people, even buildings and walls, based on subtle echoes of sounds, a form of echo-location or primitive sonar. These cues normally are subliminal; when you close your eyes, hearing becomes your primary sense and they come to the fore.

The point is that there are many very subtle cues that transform a simple immersive experience into one of genuine PRESENCE in VR. Audio is definitely in the top 3. Developers, take note. Invest in it. Early.

Brian Hunt made an excellent presentation on 3D audio at the Oculus Connect conference last year, and it looks like his labors are finally starting to bear fruit with the forthcoming release of the Audio SDK.

For your benefit, here is the full text of the Oculus announcement at CES 2015:

Oculus Announces HRTF and Audio SDK

We’re also demonstrating high-fidelity VR audio for the very first time on PC and mobile.

Great audio is a key element of immersion and an amplifier for presence that has been largely untapped until now. The upcoming Oculus Audio SDK uses Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF) technology in conjunction with the Rift’s head tracking to achieve a sense of true 3D audio spatialization. This allows content creators to immerse you sonically in a virtual world, surrounded by realistic sounds in all directions.

DareDevil uses HRTF Human Sonar

HRTFs simulate the changes to a sound when it reaches your head from a point in space. It does this by referencing data that represents changes that would happen to a sound coming from that direction. There is data for hundreds of points around your head, and the software smooths the audio between those points for a natural sound, regardless of head or sound source position.

Although HRTF technologies have been around for decades, the addition of precise head tracking makes it much more effective. We’ve gone back and revised all of our Crescent Bay demos with awesome 3D spatialized audio, along with a few surprises.

So there you have it, kind readers. True Audio spatialization, modulated by precision head tracking, has arrived. Enjoy the forthcoming symphonies.

What do you think?

Will audio be shortchanged as it was in videogames for so long, or do you think VR developers will get the hint and make spatialized audio a priority in their plans?

Add your comments below:


2 thoughts on “High-Fidelity VR Audio is KEY : HRTF arrives on Rift

  1. Wow…I just had a discussion about this the other night. For me, audio is the direct link to a complete and wholistic experience because it stimulates the imagination to fill in the spaces.

    1. Tanja, thanks for the insight. I really think there is an entire genre of audio-only experiences to explore. blindfolds and audiophile headphones in a 3d space, no goggles required. Let the creatives play! 🙂

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