CES 2018 may be crammed with the latest technologies from global innovation leaders based around the world but a lot of it never quite truly feels transformational. The same can be said for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR); there are some interesting new additions yet nothing that seems like it massively pushes the industry forward. CES 2018 is big however and just sometimes you find a company promoting a piece of tech that really makes you double-take, and Noveto certainly seems to fit that category.
At the show Noveto was showcasing an audio technology which it dubbed ‘virtual headphones’, named Sowlo. Essentially what Noveto has produced – in a prototype form currently – is a speaker like device that sits below a screen. It’s made up of a camera and several sensors that read where your ears are. So you can be watching a film on a desktop screen for example, audio blaring out for anyone to hear, then at the flick of a switch that audio is ‘inside’ your ears, just like a set of headphones, with anyone around you unable to hear.
Naturally when I first heard about this I was somewhat skeptical. I’m very well aware of the fact that sound can be controlled accurately in any direction the creator wishes; just look at 3D spatial audio. Yet what Noveto proposed was some altogether entirely different, actually projecting sound into your ear like a pair of headphones, from a device that’s sat in a centralized position.
Prototype demos can be a bit hit and miss – especially so at big events like CES 2018 – but there were no such issues here. The demo worked perfectly, shockingly so in fact, with a video being played of a woman being interviewed. At first the sound came out of the standard speakers and then bam, a the click of a button her voice was suddenly in my head, sounding very much like a average priced set of in-ear headphones.
The system allows for movement as well. All the software needs is to see and track where the user’s ears are; so as long as they are in view you could lean left and right, even turning your head to a certain degree, and the sound stayed the same. A second demo was setup in the back of a car, as if you were watching a film on a long journey. Playing a portion of hit Disney animation Frozen the demo worked exactly the same, filling my ears with music whilst no one around me could actually hear what I was listening to.
It was certainly impressive stuff and one of my favourite demos of CES 2018 so far. Yet what about the VR/AR applications of the technology? Well from an AR perspective, if Noveto can shrink the tech down enough then playing an AR title on a smartphone or tablet where only you can hear what’s going on rather than annoying people nearby would certainly be well received.
VR could be trickier, especially roomscale VR where your head – and more specifically your ears – would always be turning and not necessarily in view. It would work with more stationary VR where players aren’t spinning around – think PlayStation VR – reducing cables and extra headset equipment.
It’s still early days for Noveto’s tech, with the company looking to improve the sound quality further – it was somewhat heavy on the treble and lacked bass – yet what it claims to do it does. With some AR companies looking at projecting visuals directly into your eye and Noveto doing the same with sound it won’t be long before entire experiences are beamed directly into our senses.