Google's Omnitone adds 3D audio to web-based VR

It can make VR experiences on the web more immersive, so long as you're wearing headphones.


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.