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Microsoft's "3-D Audio" gives virtual objects a voice

June 5, 2014 | Telepresence Options

virtual-audioi-graphic

Story and images by MIT Technology Review

Headphones that make sounds seem to come from specific points in space could be the perfect counterpoint to virtual reality goggles.

Just as a new generation of virtual reality goggles for video games are about to hit the market, researchers at Microsoft have come up with what could be the perfect accompaniment--a way for ordinary headphones to create a realistic illusion of sound coming from specific locations in space.

In combination with a virtual reality device like the Oculus Rift, the new system could be used to make objects or characters in a virtual world sound as well as look like they are at a specific point in space, even if that is outside a person's field of view. Microsoft's researchers refer to the technology as 3-D audio.

In a demonstration of the technology at Microsoft's Silicon Valley lab, I put on a pair of wireless headphones that made nearby objects suddenly burst into life. A voice appeared to emanate from a cardboard model of a portable radio. Higher quality music seemed to come from a fake hi-fi speaker. And a stuffed bird high off the ground produced realistic chirps. As I walked around, the sounds changed so that the illusion never slipped as their position relative to my ears changed.

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