Audio 3D the Next Breakout Big Thing?


Over the past months, I've seen an uptick in the use of "spatial" or "3D" audio in various products and services.   It is certainly more popular, but I have to wonder if it will pull dollars and the telco industry into the twenty-first century.

BT and Dolby started promoting BT MeetMe with Dolby Voice last year at Enterprise Connect and the new tech may be one of the reasons why I might end up in Orlando next month.  The new service delivers higher quality audio conferencing over an all-IP solution, with a spatial -- location-based -- audio experience enabling speakers to be clearly separated and "positioned" when participants use stereo headphones.   I'm willing to bet BT and Dolby will demonstrate some gear for the conference room to eliminate the necessity for headphones, enabling a group of participants in the same location to naturally sit around a conference table and just talk.

But there's much more in play than the proprietary BT/Dolby solution.  At CES 2014 last month, CLICK' Research introduced a "virtual reality" 360 degree audio capture system that can be combine with a 360 degree camera system. The TRUE INNERSPACE system includes a full quadriphonic binaural audio recording system -- four microphones and recorder -- to capture what the company terms "broadcast-quality, binaural 360-degree sound."

Originally developed for the study of the behaviors and communication of marine animals, TRUE INNERSPACE should be available for commercial delivery by July 2014. It's a high end solution for "terrestrial and aerial entertainment" applications, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the technology migrate down into mass market applications, such as the aforementioned business conference room and even into the living room.

Spatial audio in the living room?  Yes, and actually yes, please.

Let's face facts, the Skype home-TV experience has been, shall we say, an uphill battle at best.  Adding a 3D audio conferencing component to the home "theatre" experience would add value to the fast-moving target of the HDTV, along with pull through for high-quality surround sound speakers and microphones.

Families could have a richer videoconferencing experience, rather than the relatively "flat" one or two microphone/speaker type they get today.  Any number of existing low-cost videoconferencing solutions utilizing the ubiquity of HDTV are already available and all are focused at trying to lock a customer into a service. 

And if you can provide a 3D experience in the family room, it becomes equally easy and useful to provide the same experience in the business conference room at an affordable price point.

Needless to say, the main players in the spatial audio space are over in Europe.  The U.S. telco industry seems to be determined to maintaining the status quo even as it glacially tries to figure out a transition from a legacy PSTN onto an all IP network.   Current and long-term discussions have focused on moving from analog narrowband voice quality to supporting G.722-based HD voice.

To borrow an idea from HP Baumeister at Fraunhofer, why settle for based out of ISDN 20 years ago? If the U.S. and others are going to transition to an all-IP network, why not break the mold and support plug-and-play style technologies such as spatial audio?  It's worth thinking about.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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