Realistic sounds can turn good VR experiences into great, truly immersive ones, and Google's new open source project can make that happen for web-based virtual reality. The technology, called Omnitone, uses a full-sphere surround sound technique called ambisonics. Simply put, it mimics how sounds are heard in reality. If a VR character is playing the piano, how you hear the music changes based on where you're looking -- turn your head (while wearing a VR headset, of course) away from the pianist, and you'll hear the music coming from behind. Since it's open source and has cross-browser support, anybody developing VR games and other experiences for the web can use it for their projects.
The Chrome team wrote in the announcement post:
"Throughout the project, we worked closely with the Google VR team for their VR audio expertise. Not only was their knowledge on the spatial audio a tremendous help for the project, but the collaboration also ensured identical audio spatialization across all of Google's VR applications -- both on the web and Android (e.g. Google VR SDK, YouTube Android app)...
With emerging web-based VR projects like WebVR, Omnitone's audio spatialization can play a critical role in a more immersive VR experience on the web...We look forward to seeing what people do with Omnitone now that it's open source. "
Google has a thorough explanation of how Omnitone works on the Open Source blog and has even posted a couple of demo videos you can try. If you don't have a VR headset you can use to view the demos, make sure to drag the picture around and wear headphones -- you might not hear the difference on speakers -- when you play them on your browser.