Sorry folks, there's no new version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset at this year's CES, and no word on when the fabled consumer version might appear. So why am I writing this post? The company has added 3D positional audio to its already mindblowing Crescent Bay demo, and it's even better than before.
You've probably already surmised that the Crescent Bay just has a pair of stereo headphones attached, not a fancy surround sound system. What you might not know is that Oculus licensed a technology called RealSpace3D Audio from VisiSonics last year. Here at CES is the first time the company's showing off the fruits of that deal, and I gave it a go.
It's mostly the exact same set of demos that I already described in alluring detail a few months back, ranging from a close encounter with a T-Rex, to first contact with a friendly alien, to a tiny town made entirely of paper that bustles with life and charm. Only now, you can hear the tiny airplane in that tiny town whiz by your head, just where you'd expect to hear it, no matter which direction you're facing. When the UFO zapped the little building, I snapped my head right over to look at it.
Not all the demos were vastly enriched by 3D audio. The Batman-esque Gotham City like environment didn't have as much bustle as I'd expect, and the T-Rex didn't feel any more imposing than before. But others were incredible, like a choreographed battle between giant industrial robot arms, over a squeaking rubber duck (I kid you not) that felt like something right out of a Pixar short. When the arms grabbed a pair of wands for a whiz-bang magic duel, I could hear the spells fly by and follow them by turning my head.
Famed game and VR programmer John Carmack had been teasing for a while that positional audio would be a "force multiplier" for the feeling of presence you get from really good virtual reality, helping make the illusion of being someplace else that much stronger. Having tried it, I think I can see what he meant! At the beginning of my demo, I noticed a lot of light coming in through the bottom of my headset, distracting me from the scene. I forgot all about that annoyance in record time.