Oculus Rift Amps Up Virtual Reality Experience Adding Spatial Audio To Crescent Bay Dev Kit

The Oculus Rift has been steadily moving towards production over the past few years as new breakthroughs and improvements allowed for further improvements to the much-discussed VR headset. Oculus VR brought their headset to CES 2015 this year, but they weren't demonstrating new visual technology this time around -- instead, it was 3D positional audio.

3D positional audio is a technology that simulates where sounds are coming from in direct relation to your head's location at the time. There have been a number of games and sound engines that incorporated these kinds of effects over the years, but most of these engines are primarily concerned with sound simulation on a 2D coordinate grid. This makes sense, given that most people own 2-5.1 speaker systems. There are games that do simulate 3D effects, but most of these implementations are fairly niche. Only a handful of gamers own headphones that can simulate surround sound effectively  -- not enough to justify investing a great deal of cash in the experience.

Oculus VR wants to change that, and they've licensed the RealSpace 3D Audio engine by Visionics to do it. One of the limitations of conventional 3D audio simulation in gaming is that audio engine doesn't automatically know the location of the gamer's head relative to everything else on-screen. The audio engine depends on data passed from the game engine, and different game engines can pass such data with greater or lesser amounts of fidelity.

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Because the Oculus Rift tracks head motion through a 360 degree field of view, it can pass this information directly to the RealSpace 3D engine, thereby ensuring that the audio stream knows your precise location at all times. The demo shown off at CES incorporated headphones, but it's possible that the same approach would still work with an appropriately spaced set of speakers (albeit with less perceived spatial accuracy, for obvious reasons).

At least year's Connect conference, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe made it clear that positional audio is vital to the project's long-term success. "We’re working on audio as aggressively as we’re working on the vision side. We have a whole team ramped up. As part of this (audio) initiative, we’ve licensed RealSpace 3D’s audio technology, a high fidelity VR audio system developed over 10 years."

Early feedback on the audio's quality and additional immersiveness has been excellent, with multiple reporters swearing that it's a huge leap forward over traditional 2D sound. I haven't personally been able to test the audio component, but playing games with the Rift is a huge jump beyond playing off a conventional display. The renewed focus on gaming audio is also welcome -- AMD's TrueAudio is another example of an area where the long-ignored science of superior sound is finally getting some attention.

There's still no word on when the Oculus Rift will be available for consumers to purchase. An unnamed leak from last year suggested that executives at the company would target 2015, but that information was never confirmed.