New kind of surround sound coming to video games

April 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
In a conference call, or in a videogame, all the voices seem to come from one place. That is changing, with a new kind of surround sound. Richard Hart reports on the Drive to Discover "spatial sound" for videogames.

In videogames, 3D has made tremendous progress on the screen -- but not in the headphones. Gamers like to chat with each other while playing online. And surround sound doesn't work well for player voices.

Surround sound in a game is great. But what is not great is when you're playing with your buddies in a multiplayer game, and everybody else sounds like they are all in the middle of your head. New technology is seeking to change that.

"It's multichannel voice chat in a game," says Jamie Goodyear of Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco. "Right now, voice chat comes out of the center channel -- pretty much exclusively -- no matter where you are or where the person doing the talking around you is. What this does is mix that audio in realtime with the rest of the game audio."

Of course, you can't appreciate this in a broadcast, because you don't normally listen to it in surround sound. But believe me, in Electronic Arts' game "Need for Speed". When your opponent is tailgating you, you hear his taunts from behind you.

That is called spatial location. It's not just about games. In a conference call, you could use this to drag and drop other people from one ear to the other so you could tell who was who during the call. Another effect is occlusion.

"When I step behind a wall, "Goodyear explains, "my voice sounds like I'm behind that wall."

To hear these effects, you must be playing a game online. The sound must be processed on powerful servers that are operated by Dolby in the cloud. So the game must be enabled with its Axon technology. "Need for Speed" will be the first game to use it.

------- Links -------

Axon videogame chat demonstration

EA Need for Speed official site


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