Last week’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) marked the fourth time Oculus VR has rolled-out the latest version of their Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) prototype, following it’s debut at Oculus Connect in September 2014. Available both on the show floor and behind closed doors, the demonstration software was largely the same as has been shown before but with a new addition in the form of Audiobot. From a technical point-of-view however, a significant update was offered to all aspects of the demo: spatial audio.
Using VisiSonics’ RealSpace 3D technology, the CrescentBay prototype now benefits from head-related transfer function (HRTF) audio. What this essentially means is that the software now knows where you are looking and can distribute the sound across the full spectrum of your hearing, allowing greater, more accurate perception of where that sound may have been triggered in the virtual world. This is evidenced in the very first demo of the Crescent Bay reel, wherein a pipe bursts within the small room aboard a submarine in which you find yourself. This pipe is behind you, and you recognise instantly which pipe it was not necessarily because you’re looking at it, but because you hear the sound coming from above and behind you.
The various demos included in the reel vary in their ability to showcase HRTF, and obviously most notable was the aforementioned Audiobot; arguably designed solely for the purpose of showing off this new tech. However, two other examples also standout. The Batman-esque moment where you are placed upon a skyscraper rooftop with no choice but to look down at the streets hundreds of feet below you now induces a genuine feel of vertigo; all that surrounds you is the whistling wind, but reaching up from below is the sound of a bustling city at night. Car horns and pedestrians break the tranquillity of your lonely battlement, inviting a genuine feeling that the floor is a deep dive below where you currently reside.
Another fine example of HRTF is in the toybox style city scene. Lording over the brightly coloured domain like a god, the sequence is only a short few seconds long (seemingly shorter than its original appearance in the demo reel at Oculus Connect) but in that time one of the small planes flies behind your head. You are aware of it’s position at all times thanks to the movement of it’s engines across the fullest of the space behind you. This isn’t simply transferring from left speaker of right as it moves, this is a slow and precisely calculated zoning that delivers an almost perfect pitch to a very specific part of your ear.
Of course, the demo reel is still concluded with Epic Games’ astounding Showdown demo. A masterful creation harnessing technical prowess and badass science-fiction – guns, explosions and giant robots – Showdown continues to impress. The visual quality is so overwhelming it was hard to determine whether or not HRTF had been incorporated into Showdown, and if it had whether or not it made much of a difference. But with Epic Games clearly keen supporters of VR, we’re bound to see more of Showdown in the near future. VRFocus will of course be there to keep you updated.