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Oculus Rift Gets Its Audio with VisiSonics' RealSpace 3D Audio
Wearable Tech World Feature Article
October 08, 2014
Oculus Rift Gets Its Audio with VisiSonics' RealSpace 3D Audio
By Steve Anderson
Contributing TMCnet Writer

The wait for the arrival of the Oculus Rift — which represents one of the biggest pushes for in-home virtual reality (VR) seen in quite some time — has been almost painful for some of those waiting, but day by day, the pieces of this impressive system seem to come together and, in all likelihood, will ultimately provide us with an amazing experience. That much has become quite clear with the recent announcement that Oculus plans to bring in the RealSpace 3D Audio engine from VisiSonics Corporation to serve as the system's audio backbone.

VisiSonics Corporation is regarded as a  leader in the field of 3D audio software, and with the RealSpace engine behind it, the Oculus Rift will be able to present different sounds in a 3D space with incredible accuracy, thus allowing sounds to be perceived as coming from different points relative to the listener, a development that's nothing short of crucial for a system like the Oculus Rift that depends on a user's perception to make the whole thing work. Oculus made the announcement that VisiSonics was in on the action at its recent Oculus Connect developer conference, recently staged in Los Angeles to help bring developers up to speed on Oculus' progress.

RealSpace 3D Audio, meanwhile, is said to be the result of fully 10 years of research from the University of Maryland, working from a combination of room models, head-tracking systems and similar transfer functions, as well as how these various factors impact each other in the transmission of sound in a space. Ramani Duraiswami, VisiSonics' founder and president, believes that the company is “ a threshold for physics-based personal audio rendering in virtual reality...” and as such was eager to join in with Oculus on the project. Oculus' CEO, Brendan Iribe, noted that audio was “ essential ingredient for immersive virtual reality...” and as such, having VisiSonics involved would be a great way to augment the Oculus Rift's capabilities.

This will be quite a test for the RealSpace 3D engine. It's one thing to have audio move with video along pre-defined tracks — there's actually an interesting demo the company offers involving what looks like a tiny Apache helicopter — but this is going to be different. The sound will have to move with the perception, and that will be somewhat more difficult than static video. A sound that begins to the user's left will have to be able to move quickly to the front of the user when the user turns toward the sound in question, not to mention back should the user look in other directions; a sound isn't always coming from the direction one initially believes it is, so the user will likely look around rapidly to check for a visual to match the sound. That could prove to be quite a torture test for RealSpace 3D. But given how smoothly the audio seems to move in the helicopter demo, it may well be that RealSpace 3D can adapt to fast movement and make adjustments accordingly.

It's going to be a red-letter day when Oculus finally rolls out the Rift, and though that's still likely to be a few months out by some reports, it's still likely to prove worth the wait as the hardware and software—not to mention the audio, now!--come together to create a magnificently immersive package for users.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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