by Steven Tweedie
Oculus showed off its newest Oculus Rift prototype at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and the virtual reality headset has an incredible new feature.
It’s called “spatial audio”, and it makes the virtual environments sound like you’re truly there.
To test this new feature, I was ushered into a room padded with foam to allow for better acoustics.
Spatial audio is incredible: it means if a bird flies overhead in a game, you can hear its chirp travel from behind you, to over your head, and finally to in front of you. If you turn around, the audio responds accordingly. This only adds to the realism.
I got to try a version of the latest “Crescent Bay” Oculus Rift prototype that didn’t feature spatial audio last month at Business Insider’s Ignition conference. More than a month later, I got to try the same demos, but this time with spatial audio, and I can say it certainly makes a big difference.
In one demo created to show off what the spatial audio can do, two giant robot arms that look liked like they belonged in Elon Musk’s Tesla factory faced off in a battle using magical wands. The robot arms moved in circles around me, sending sparks at each other. Thanks to the inclusion of spatial audio, the sounds always matched the physical position of the robots.
If a noise occurred in front of me while I happened to be looking down, the sounds actually moved above my head, which is how it works in reality too.
The best example of the Oculus Rift’s new 3D audio was during a tug-of-war between the two robots for a tiny, squeaky toy rubber duck. After trying to wrestle the duck from each others’ robotic claws, one robot arm grabbed the toy duck and flung it over my shoulder, and I was amazed at how the squeaks traveled from in front of me to directly behind me. I even found myself turning accordingly, just as you would if someone yelled something from a car driving by.
The Oculus Rift already has full positional tracking, meaning you can bend down, lean in, and walk around a small area. This is possible thanks to the new infared camera that tracks the headset’s position at all times using the dots on the front and back of the Rift.
With your movements so closely tracked, tracking audio in the same way is the natural next step, and Oculus is also releasing its spatial audio software to developers so they can add it to their games for the Oculus Rift’s consumer edition launch.
There’s no doubt, however, that this was hands-down the best virtual reality experience I’ve ever had — and I’ve tried the last three virtual reality headsets Oculus has worked on.
This proves it takes more than visuals to trick your mind into truly believing you’re in a virtual environment.
Oculus is still being cagey on when the Oculus Rift consumer edition will launch, so unfortunately virtual reality enthusiasts will have to continue to play the waiting game for now.
Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait.