Google recently added a new feature to their Google Cardboard SDK called Spatial Audio, which provides some cool, new tools and resources for creating immersive audio within Google Cardboard applications.
Sound is a critical factor in how we perceive and remember real experiences. Spatial Audio allows your VR app to reproduce sound in the same way that humans actually hear it, which is much different than normal stereo panning. Instead of simply fading from left to right speakers, Spatial Audio uses delay and frequency changes to simulate how the head hears sounds in real life, depending on where the sound is positioned in it’s environment in relation to the user’s head.
According to Google:
- The SDK combines the physiology of a listener’s head with the positions of virtual sound sources to determine what users hear. For example: sounds that come from the right will reach a user’s left ear with a slight delay, and with fewer high frequency elements (which are normally dampened by the skull).
- The SDK lets you specify the size and material of your virtual environment, both of which contribute to the quality of a given sound. So you can make a conversation in a tight spaceship sound very different than one in a large, underground (and still virtual) cave.
The new feature was developed to provide minimal impact on the mobile device’s primary CPU. As a result, the SDK allows developers the ability to “allocate more processing power to critical sounds, while de-emphasizing others.”
The Cardboard SDK comes with a Unity demo project called Audio Spaces, which includes the Unity files and a ready to install Android app .apk file. The app allows you to turn on different audio samples and hear them in different environments such as in an apartment, an outside field, a cave and in space. There are lots of scripts, prefabs, demo scenes and other resources to get you started.
In the video above, I show a quick example of how it is used and what it sounds like using a stripped down version of the SDK’S Unity demo. (Be sure to use headphones for the best audio experience.)
Admittedly, my Unity skills are still pretty primitive, so I had to read and reread the documentation pretty thoroughly to get started. Since i’m still kicking the tires of this new feature, maybe i’ll do some more videos later once I actually know what I am doing. In the meantime, if you use Spatial Audio in any of your applications, I would love to hear about it.
Google Is Stepping Up Their Game
In other news, this new SDK update was announced directly following Google’s recent appointment of Clay Bevor as their new VP, Virtual Reality as well as announcing the formation of a new VR Devision to build up their Google Cardboard and VR business. Admittedly, we have not seen much activity recently in the Google Cardboard universe, so this update and other recent movements are really exciting to see.
Looking forward to more cool stuff from Google and we are loving Spatial Audio!
Sean Earley is the podcast host and Executive Editor of AR/VR Magazine, Modern Musician Magazine & co-founder of RobotSpaceship Podcast Network. He is the Director of New Biz Development, PR and Publishing at KEMWEB, a musician, producer & consultant. He loves guitars, VR and coffee.