With consumer models of many Virtual Reality headsets right around the corner, the biggest challenge currently facing the VR community is the limited amount of VR content available. All sorts of companies are tackling this problem as we speak, so that when people finally unbox their new headsets, they won’t run out of things to experience. In my opinion, many of them are missing something. Virtual Reality is all about immersion. It’s about making you feel like you are somewhere else and actually making it believable. To me, there is a difference between 360 Video and a truly captivating cinematic Virtual Reality experience.
One of the most distinct differences is how the audio is treated. While there are plenty of content creators currently capturing some amazing VR visuals, they are missing something important: 3D audio. 3D audio for VR is special in that it follows your head movements based on where you look in an experience. This is one of the coolest things about VR, but it is also one of the hardest to achieve. There are no “industry standards” to tell us what is right and wrong because every aspect is still being developed. This leaves the door open for content creators and developers to blaze new trails and establish some of those standards themselves. After months of researching, we have found a solution to help us capture immersive audio for immersive video.
Ambisonic microphones are not a new technology. They were invented in the early 1970s, but due to a lack of applicable use cases, never really gained popularity among audio engineers in the production industry. They were written off as specialty microphones for specialty applications. Put simply, an ambisonic microphone is an array of 4 (sometimes more) small microphones strategically placed to capture true 3D audio. After some fancy post-production techniques, this 4 channel ambisonic recording can be used to create a binaural sound field that changes based on the viewer’s head position. Using what audio engineers call head-related transfer functions or HRTFs, you can even discern if an audio source is above, below, or directly behind you. It’s something you truly have to experience to fully grasp (we’ll make sure to post samples soon!). The ability to see things happen in VR and to hear the sound come fro exactly the right direction regardless of your head position really is what sells the immersion.
Our first ambisonic microphone system and all the gear that goes along with it will be arriving soon. We can’t wait to capture and produce this immersive and interactive 3D audio, and we plan to be integrating it into all of our VR endeavors in the future!