3D audio is still a relatively new technology, although more and more people are becoming aware of the possibilities. Once only reserved for enterprise and commercial applications, 3D Audio is gaining steam thanks to the innovative startups that are making it accessible to all.
We're now seeing some of today's most popular and successful audio companies join the space, further proving that the future of audio is immersive.
At CES in 2016, Sennheiser announced its Ambeo VR Audio Mic, a handheld ambisonics microphone designed for enterprise VR applications. Ambisonics microphones capture a file format known as B-Format audio, the go to recorded audio format for developers creating VR experiences to be consumed on VR headsets.
Sennheiser claiming their Ambeo to be a "VR Microphone" shows just how much demand there is for content creators in this new space.
Just saying the word makes you hear that infamous sound effect that's been playing in every movie theatre for the past 10 years. In 1983, George Lucas created THX to make sure "Return of the Jedi" felt just right in theaters, with true-to-the-original sound. THX has been certifying audiovisual systems ever since, including the ones in consumer products like Panasonic TVs, Onkyo A/V receivers and Lincoln cars.
In October the gaming peripheral company bought THX in hopes of moving beyond just gaming. Their intention is to make THX into a 3D Audio certifier.
"We see a lot of potential to have the expertise of THX applied in new categories like virtual reality, and spacial surround sound," says Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan, adding that THX's patents in those areas might be valuable. Facebook's Oculus, one of today's VR leaders, found itself licensing and buying VR audio technology before getting its headset off the ground."
This year Dolby announced Dolby Atmos, a 3D Audio algorithm that Dolby hopes to license to theaters, home theaters, sound bars, mobile apps and headphones. Think of it as the next step beyond 5.1 and 7.1 speaker set ups. Products that support Dolby Atmos will offer the following experience (from Dolby site):
When it comes to audio licensing, Dolby is one of the biggest and brightest. Almost all of the audio equipment we own in our homes has a dolby audio algorithm in it. With Atmos, Dolby is showing us that the next step in speaker technology is not just 7 channel stereo, it's 3D audio with height and depth.
In November 2016, Rode announced it would be partnering with SoundField to give ambisonic microphones a "bright future". Presumably to give the Sennheiser Ambeo some competition, Rode's new "3D Audio Mic" will also capture audio for VR applications. We now have two major microphone manufacturers agreeing that the future of audio is immersive. Expect to see more 3D Audio recording technology from Rode in the coming months.
This year Roland released the WearPro Mic, a pair of wired 3D stereo microphones designed specifically for GoPro. GoPro footage makes you feel like you're there, seeing from the recordists perspective. But the audio is flat and removes you from the experience. 3D Audio for GoPro is a no brainer, now you can both see and hear from the recordists perspective. Roland is hoping to cash in on this new market by providing a 3D Audio recording product, a sign of where Roland's intentions are in the coming years.
In hopes of competing with Dolby, DTS also released its 3D audio algorithm this year. DTS X is the alternative to Dolby Atmos, designed to work the same way. Dolby Atmos is well-established and quickly becoming the standard in immersive audio formats. But just like McDonalds versus Burger King, the default choice isn't always the best one for everyone. DTS:X also has its benefits. DTS uses a slightly different techniques which it hopes will distinguish itself in the format race.
Like most technologies, they begin as a format and grow into a market. What we're seeing between DTS, Dolby and Auro3D is no different. This is just the beginning!
7. Auro Technologies
The third and arguably lesser known algorithm company of the big three, Auro has begun its push into the consumer 3D Audio space with its Auro3D 11.1 format. Truthfully Auro has the most experience and best product, but you might not have heard of them because they focus more on enterprise and business. Where DTS and Dolby have the home theater receivers, Auro has the theme parks, cinemas and automotive. That is all about to change however as 3D Audio becomes more readily available and accessible to consumers. Exciting stuff.
This is just the beginning, we are headed for a sea change when it comes to listening and capturing our stories. These days more than ever, technology is helping us create a global community where we can better understand the common humanity that bonds us all. The phrase "walk a mile in their shoes" is becoming less metaphor and more reality, and that's a good thing. I'm excited for the future of storytelling and the truth that 3D Audio brings.
Thank you for reading! If you think I've missed any big audio companies in this post please comment in the section below! And always, thank you for sharing.
From One Ear To Another,
Founder, Hooke Audio