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How audio technology is shaping the VR experience
Although the core of our business is telephone headsets, we like to keep abreast of the emerging technologies that will shape the future of communication devices, especially anything that is worn on the head. You'd have to be living under a rock not to know about virtual reality (VR) headsets; once the preserve of flight simulators and other high tech commercial training applications, the equipment is now at a price point where the average consumer can experience virtual reality.
Most VR headsets work with a smartphone and on-head device which houses the phone, putting the screen right in front of your eyes. Audio is a huge part of the virtual reality experience; seeing a game or experience play out in front of you while you feel you are really there is augmented by having realistic audio which appears to come from all around you. Sound engineers work very hard to create an immersive audio experience that complements the visual experience, and without using the right equipment you could be losing out on a very important part of the virtual world.
In VR experiences that encourage the user to interact with the alternative reality in which they are immersed, sound engineers use the concept of spatial audio to make it seem like sounds get louder if you move towards them, and also the make sure that sounds that relate to items or characters out of view are still heard; appearing to come from behind the user, or to the side. These spatially engineered soundtracks are best experienced with a binaural headset so that you get the full experience, after all someone has worked very hard to make the audio track as convincing as possible and you don't want to miss out on that.
Although some virtual reality experiences play the sound from the phone itself, many require additional audio equipment to fully enable the sound and this is where making a good decision is important. Depending on the type of VR experience you are using it may be best to opt for a wireless audio solution, as the cables could become tangled if you move while the VR film plays out, and this is quite likely. A set of wireless headphones is ideal here, but it is vital that they can be worn comfortably with the VR headset, so it does not interfere with your experience. Some people have reported experiencing a lag in synchronization between the visual and auditory experience when using wireless bluetooth headphones with VR experiences, so it may be better to use a wired headset to ensure the experience is as immersive as it can be; sound lag can make it confusing and hard to enjoy, especially if dialogue is present.
To use a telephone headset with a VR experience it is vital that you have the right connection to the device, and as most smartphones use a standard headphone jack socket, you will need to ensure that your headset can be connected to the phone. If your headset has a USB or QD connection you may need an extra connector, which has a headphone jack, such as this QD to jack cable.
It may be a while before staff training is done using virtual reality experiences, but this approach could well be on the horizon. There are many jobs where practical training could be dangerous if a mistake is made, pilot training being one of them. Bomb disposal training, surgical training and even first aid training can all be augmented with a VR headset and real-life props, and as the technology becomes more widely used for these purposes, it could filter down into many other types of job. We expect that audio delivery will be integrated within VR headsets in the future, but for the moment you are better off investing in a good quality corded headset to get the most out of your forays into virtual reality.