The big headline of Oculus VR’s showcase at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Las Vegas, this year? Audio. The visuals are there, the positional tracking is in place, so sound was obviously next on the virtual reality (VR) checklist. With the help of Visisonics, whose RealSpace 3D Audio system is being used by Oculus VR, as announced back in October 2014, the Crescent Bay prototype demonstration has undergone a major overhaul, with new content added to boot.
That new content comes in the form of a demo known as Audiobot. A Pixar-like demo lasting only a few minutes – though longer than most other sequences in the Crescent Bay demo reel – Audiobot places the user in the centre of a robot war. A war for possession of a rubber duck.
Standing in the middle of a ring which cleverly fades at the back to signify the direction you should place your attention in the first instance, Audiobot features that all-important rubber duck upon a pedestal in front of the user. A single hydraulic arm on wheels takes a liking to the toy, especially the sound it makes when squeezed, and claims it as its own. However, a larger mechanical arm then awakes, and is none too happy with the situation. They wrestle for possession, and in the struggle the duck gets launched high above your head, landing in the faint fog behind you.
The beauty of Crescent Bay’s new audio system is witnessed then and there. You will know where the duck landed not because you saw it – the action is too fast for you to follow the flight path with your eyes – but because of the sound it makes upon impact with the floor. You turn, and see the abandoned toy lying lonely in the distance, but you don’t have a moment to mourn. The action doesn’t stop there.
The battle continues as now ahead resides a conductor’s baton and sheet music. The larger arm immediately grabs the baton and begins conducting, setting the clean white environment alive colour as it does so. The smaller arm joins the musical showcase, adding a green particle stream to the larger arms’ pink. The background dims and a light show plays out. The robots move around you, conducting sound and light as they battle for supremacy. The temptation to follow them is overwhelming, but doing so would miss the vital piece of information that this technical demonstration offers; even when you cannot see the robots, you are aware of where they are in relation to you.
Like many of the Crescent Bay demonstrations that Oculus VR has offered thus far, Audiobot impresses on many levels. However, while the others have also been updated with head-related transfer function (HRFT) technology, it’s clear that Audiobot is intended to be the primary showcase of this advancement. Audio is often a vitally underrated part of the virtual experience, but in the case of the Oculus Rift it looks as though it’s set to become a well engineered piece of the puzzle.