Research finds a way to immerse yourself in sound using technology already in your home
AN ‘immersive’ experience of games, films and music could soon be possible in the home using smartphones, laptops and tablets thanks to new research.
Computer vision and sound experts at the University of Surrey have demonstrated what they call ‘media device orchestration (MDO)’ – a home audio concept which enables users to enjoy immersive audio experiences by using all available devices in a typical living room. The MDO concept has been developed at Surrey in collaboration with the universities of Salford and Southampton, and BBC Research & Development. It was presented at the Audio Mostly conference in London yesterday (Thursday).
Researchers have demonstrated that a 3D or ‘spatial audio’ experience can be achieved by employing everyday home devices in the living room such as a laptop, smartphone or wireless minispeaker. The technology works by isolating different ‘objects’ within audio content, such as a particular voice, and connecting them to separate speakers available around the room. The concept could enable consumers to enjoy films, games, programmes and music in a far more immersive, multilayered and exciting way.
While it is possible to create 3D listening experiences using current spatial audio technology, this requires a complex set-up involving a multitude of speakers located at exact points in relation to the listener.
Because of these limitations, the technology cannot easily be replicated in a domestic situation and is generally limited to specialist environments such as cinemas and theme park experiences.
The MDO research is part of the £5.4 million five-year S3A project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is aimed at delivering a step-change in the quality of audio consumed by the general public.
With the advent of advanced home video technology such as 3D television, there is a need for audio technology to ‘catch up’ in order to match the visual experience. At the same time, the growth of virtual reality for video games and other applications is creating demand for a sense of sound which is all around the user.
Dr Philip Jackson, senior lecturer in machine audition at Surrey, said: “Most consumer audio transmitted into our homes is in the form of two-channel stereo which uses basic principles that have been around for over 130 years. To date, sophisticated multi-channel audio techniques have not helped to improve the listening experience for the general public. Our aim is to take spatial audio out of the lab and into people’s homes, and give users the impression of being at the heart of the action while in their living room.”
Dr Jon Francombe, research fellow in spatial audio in Surrey’s Institute of Sound Recording, said: “New spatial audio methods have often required consumers to buy and install specific systems. We’re trying to make immersive listening experiences available to anyone by intelligently re-purposing content for whatever devices they already have available. The feedback we’ve had on our demonstrations to date has been great. MDO produces a listening experience that’s different to normal surround sound but can be equally (if not even more) immersive.”
The MDO concept is being developed by the S3A team to automate the process of ‘labelling’ sounds and connecting them with speakers.