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This team is trying to create 3D audio for virtual reality

THRIVE, which is based in TCD, has been working on creating immersive 3D audio for the good part of a decade and now they’re bringing it to virtual reality.

THE ADVANCEMENTS WITH Virtual Reality (VR) devices like the Oculus Rift, bought by Facebook earlier this year, and other projects like Samsung Galaxy Gear VR and Sony’s Project Morpheus slowly coming into the mainstream.

Yet it’s still early days and while the visuals are impressive, using depth perception to create the feeling you’re there is still amazing no matter what you’re doing, other factors that add to the overall experience haven’t caught up yet.

One of the projects to come out of Trinity College Dublin is THRIVE, a technology that creates 3D audio for whatever you’re watching or doing.

Traditionally, audio for any medium, TV, film and gaming, is fixed and cannot react to the actions of a game. Yet THRIVE can provide audio that reacts in real-time to a listener’s movements in virtual scenarios, taking into account height, distance and depth.

After experimenting with 3D audio over headphones using devices like Microsoft’s Kinect (which detects physical gestures) and other headtracking technologies, the team has moved onto Oculus Rift, planning to bring 3D audio to the platform.

By using the head tracking capabilities of Oculus Rift to aid 3D audio, it creates a link between both sound and audio creating a more immersive experience.

A team of five is behind this technology, originating from TCD’s School of Engineering, and has been working on audio research for the good part of a decade now.

One of the members is the professor of Engineering Science, Frank Boland, mentioned how reducing that disconnect became a greater challenge bringing in the head tracking capabilities of Oculus Rift.

When you bring in the immersive visual experience from something like the Oculus [Rift], you’re now bringing in more complicated elements because if you’re on a seashore and you’re looking out to sea and then you move your head 90 degrees, you don’t want the sea to move with you. You expect the sound of the sea to be still, back for where you know where the sea is so you got to be able to stabilise the audio so that it retains its reference as you move your head around.

Currently, the team has worked with a number of developers in the indie game scene in Ireland, but the team has spoken to people from all areas such as development companies, the games industry, both indie and large publishers, and technology companies.

The team has developed a Unity plug-in for games developers as well as a standalone API (application programming interface) for those not involved in gaming.

While the project has come in leaps and bounds, Prof Boland says there’s still a long way to go with challenges to bring 3D audio to devices that aren’t headphones.

This isn’t finished yet… because there are a number of quite obvious challenges that need to be resolved,” explained Prof Boland.”Headphones problems are delivery of accurate audio, particularly height, in it and trying to deliver the same sort of experience but over loudspeakers.”

Not cluttering your room with a load of speakers surrounding the room, but having loudspeakers in front of you so that you are able to get that spacial effect… so there are a number of challenges [involved].

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