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AES Conference focuses on immersive audio for VR/AR

By  Mel Lambert

The AES Convention, which was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in early October, attracted a broad cross section of production and post professionals looking to discuss the latest technologies and creative offerings. The convention had approximately 13,000 registered attendees and more than 250 brands showing wares in the exhibits halls and demo rooms.

Convention Committee co-chairs Valerie Tyler and Michael MacDonald, along with their team, created the comprehensive schedule of workshops, panels and special events for this year’s show. “The Los Angeles Convention Center’s West Hall was a great new location for the AES show,” said MacDonald. “We also co-located the AVAR conference, and that brought 3D audio for gaming and virtual reality into the mainstream of the AES.”

“VR seems to be the next big thing,” added AES executive director Bob Moses, “[with] the top developers at our event, mapping out the future.”

The two-day, co-located Audio for Virtual and Augmented Reality Conference was expected to attract about 290 attendees, but with aggressive marketing and outreach to the VR and AR communities, pre-registration closed at just over 400.

Aimed squarely at the fast-growing field of virtual/augmented reality audio, this conference focused on the creative process, applications workflow and product development. “Film director George Lucas once stated that sound represents 50 percent of the motion picture experience,” said conference co-chair Andres Mayo. “This conference demonstrates that convincing VR and AR productions require audio that follows the motions of the subject and produces a realistic immersive experience.”

Spatial sound that follows head orientation for headsets powered either by dedicated DSP, game engines or smartphones opens up exciting opportunities for VR and AR producers. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and other systems are attracting added consumer interest for the coming holiday season. Many immersive-audio innovators, including DST and Dolby, are offering variants of their cinema systems targeted at this booming consumer marketplace via binaural headphone playback.

Sennheiser’s remarkable new Ambeo VR microphone (pictured left) can be used to capture 3D sound and then post produced to prepare different spatial perspectives — a perfect adjunct for AR/VR offerings. At the high end, Nokia unveiled its Ozo VR camera, equipped with eight camera sensors and eight microphones, as an alternative to a DIY assembly of GoPro cameras, for example.

Two fascinating keynotes bookended the AVAR Conference. The opening keynote, presented by Philip Lelyveld, VR/AR initiative program manager at the USC Entertainment Technology Center, Los Angeles, and called “The Journey into Virtual and Augmented Reality,” defined how virtual, augmented and mixed reality will impact entertainment, learning and social interaction. “Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality have the potential of delivering interactive experiences that take us to places of emotional resonance, give us agency to form our own experiential memories, and become part of the everyday lives we will live in the future,” he explained.

“Just as TV programming progressed from live broadcasts of staged performances to today’s very complex language of multithread long-form content,” Lelyveld stressed, “so such media will progress from the current early days of projecting existing media language with a few tweaks to a headset experience into a new VR/AR/MR-specific language that both the creatives and the audience understand.”

Is his closing keynote, “Future Nostalgia, Here and Now: Let’s Look Back on Today from 20 Years Hence,” George Sanger, director of sonic arts at Magic Leap, attempted to predict where VR/AR/MR will be in two decades. “Two decades of progress can change how we live and think in ways that boggle the mind,” he acknowledged. “Twenty years ago, the PC had rudimentary sound cards, now the entire ‘multitrack recording studio’ lives on our computers. By 2036, we will be wearing lightweight portable devices all day. Our media experience will seamlessly merge the digital and physical worlds; how we listen to music will change dramatically. We live in the Revolution of Possibilities.”

According to conference co-chair Linda Gedemer, “It has been speculated by Wall Street [pundits] that VR/AR will be as game changing as the advent of the PC, so we’re in for an incredible journey!”

Mel Lambert, who also gets photo credit on pictures from the show, is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA

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