Sound controls

Game Sound: Next Generation Acoustics

Posted: Posted Date – 11:59 PM, Sun – May 1, 22

By Aditya Deshbandhu

Conversations around video game development are often dominated by debates about graphics and visual fidelity. Microsoft’s Series X and Sony’s PS5 launches are a case in point where terms like teraflops, bitrates, resolutions, and frame rates were the most gamers and media coverage involved.

This singular focus on the visual is problematic given that gaming is an experience that appeals to multiple player senses at the same time (a multi-sensory experience, if I may say so). This week’s article looks at the transformation of acoustics in gaming, as gaming experiences seek to blur the lines between the simulated and the real.

A transformation that is just as important as the visual, most game and gaming device developers have been actively researching various ways to make sound realistic. A search that has resulted in the emergence of audio formats like spatial sound and 3D sound to create an experience that immerses the player using both audio and visual.

This week, we take a look at some of the different approaches game companies are using to provide their players with audio that’s not only clear, but loaded with the information needed for players to make vital in-game decisions.

Sony’s Tempest Engine

Announced in the middle of the PS5 launch, the Tempest Engine stands out as Sony has moved away from Dolby to create an experience that promises to deliver 3-dimensional sound. The 3D sound that Tempest can render is not accessible on most current soundbars and systems.

The most convenient way to experience this is through a pair of headphones plugged into the 3.5mm jack on the DualSense 5 controller. The experience through a pair of headphones is quite impressive and Tempest is a extremely ambitious project that can take years to achieve.

Sony hopes that with Tempest, it can in the long term transform any audio system (headphones, integrated speakers) into a system capable of offering a 3-dimensional experience.

The atmosphere of Dolby

The most popular experience around, Dolby’s Atmos has become much more affordable since its debut in James Bond’s Skyfall. Most modern soundbars and mid-range systems offer Dolby Atmos and the experience is great.

Playing games like Forza Horizon 5, Elden Ring, or Halo Infinite on a system that supports Atmos can feel almost surreal at times. Add to that Dolby’s ongoing developments with DTS:X, and we could see Atmos becoming the industry standard. Atmos in its current form creates spatial depth in the sound it renders and DTS:X does the same with height and as the latest sound systems combine both experiences (spatial and vertical) a 3D sound experience suddenly seems possible .

Dolby-licensed systems are expensive, however, and not available to all gamers. Sony’s Tempest idea therefore seems a more democratic and ideal approach to the next generation of gaming sounds. a 3D experience seems the most likely way forward.

But who will succeed? Despite justifying my mind for Dolby, my heart beats for Sony’s Tempest.

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