Last Tuesday, the local chapter of the Audio Engineering Society held their monthly meeting at the university where I teach. I can never make the monthly Tuesday evening meetings because the conflict with my evening classes. So they brought the meeting to me. I was the featured speaker and talked about high-resolution audio. The title of the presentation was “High-Res Audio/Music: More Fidelity or Marketing Hype?” If you’re a regular reader of this site you already know the nature of the discussion. I think I opened some ears and minds to the gross misrepresentations being made by the music industry.
I reconnected with some old friends, a few former students, and was introduced to a number of new people in the industry. As a result of my presentation, I was provided access to the 2016 AES Convention and the conference Audio for Virtual and Augmented Reality, a separate event held concurrently with the traditional AES event. It was organized by my friend Andres Mayo and Linda Gedemer. You can view the conference program by clicking here.
So on Friday morning, I headed east of the San Diego freeway and planned a whole day around the AES convention and the AVAR conference. I had a very full day and didn’t return home until after 11 pm — a rare thing for me. But the day was incredibly engaging on a variety of fronts, which I would like to share over the next couple of posts.
My time was focused on the main presentations — tutorials as they called them — held in the main auditorium. Just outside the venue sponsors of the event were demoing hardware and software targeted to the production community — especially those interested in grabbing a portion of the estimated 120 billion dollar market that is expected to develop over the next 3 years! There are already over 4000 production companies working in the VR and AR space. And they are all scrambling to learn about immersive sound production, postproduction, and delivery strategies.
I put on video headsets and headphones and listened carefully to the demos of Dolby Atmos, Ambeo, Occulus, Audiokinetic, Visisonics, Gaudio, and others. Honestly, I was underwhelmed with both the visuals and audio. But the audio fidelity was really dreadful. There are experiments being done with Ambisonics, multiarray microphones (with up to 64 microphones placed around a sphere), and plug ins for Pro Tools that allow engineers to dynamically pan “sound objects” to visuals.
From what I heard in the tutorials (which were admittedly compromised because they came through the PA system) and other demos, VR and AR audio have a very long way to go. I’ve heard more compelling trackable immersive audio from the guys working in the studio next door. They have developed an omni binaural microphone system that can be attached to a VR camera setup to capture live sound. I’ve heard some pretty good audio from them.
There are so many different aspects to VR and AR audio. A major area of attention in gaming and I’m sure that gamers will be the first market to get upgraded sound. However, bringing music into the VR and AR space is going to be a much larger challenge. Is it enough to set up a Soundfield microphone in the midst of a live performance and hit record? I’ve heard audio done with this approach and it was far from satisfying. But is it appropriate to deliver the standard CD stereo mix through a pair of headphones while the video allows 360 panning?
To be continued…