If your child is into gaming, you’re going to be hearing a lot about 3D audio in the near future. Credence Research has reported that the 3D audio market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 17.2% between now and 2026. And the gaming industry, in particular, is making that happen, as more game developing companies are switching their sound engines from 2D to 3D.
Wait, what the heck is 3D audio? Isn’t that just surround sound?
No. It’s way better. While surround sound involves the placement of speakers in strategic locations around where you’re sitting, 3D audio allows you to hear sounds from above, below, and behind you. It allows you to experience sound the way you do in everyday life.
“3D audio recreates sound in a much more natural way, so it’s closer to what you might hear in real life,” says BT Group, a British telecommunications company. “So, while surround sound plays noises like a beeping car horn in set places around you, 3D audio lets you hear the same car horn as if someone was actually beeping it nearby.”
In other words, let’s say you’re taking a walk in your neighborhood and you hear birds chirping, a dog barking, and someone mowing their lawn. With 3D audio, if the bird is in a tree on your left, you’ll hear the bird in your left ear, while you might hear the dog ahead of you, and the lawnmower on your right.
Writing in Venture Beat, Eva Wesemann, Director of Creative Strategy for Antenna International, describes it this way:
“Just imagine yourself at a museum, standing in front of a massive painting that – despite being a two-dimensional work of art – has amazing depth and allure. Now fold 3D audio into the experience. Characters in the painting sneak up from behind and encourage you to look deeper. Meanwhile, others call for your attention on the right, and then on the left. Suddenly, you’re a part of what’s happening on the seemingly ‘flat’ canvas.”
In fact, 3D audio in gaming doesn’t just enhance the overall sensory experience. It can actually provide players with competitive advantages they never had before.
“As a gamer, I am always looking for ways to get an advantage over my opponents. There is nothing more worrisome than having an enemy pop up, from seemingly nowhere, behind me in a game,” writes veteran gamer Jon Scarr in the Best Buy blog.
“A 3D audio headset creates a hyper realistic auditory experience and allows you to pinpoint the exact location of your opponent,” says Scarr. “With lightning fast reactions to sound queues such as footsteps and gunfire, your enemies will never know what hit them.”
There’s already talk of 3D audio entering the movie-going experience as well, but 3D audio is likely to see the most growth in the virtual reality world. In order to truly make VR a fully immersive experience that mimics real-life, the audio has to be realistic as well.
“Now that almost every smartphone is capable of being turned into a virtual reality headset,” says BT Group, “it opens up huge possibilities for VR to go mainstream. As a result, developers want to make the experience as realistic as possible.”