What We Learned and Didn’t Hear at VRLA2016

 On August 6, RotoLab team members took a day to check out the VRLAExpo2016 — a disappointment with its painfully long lines and narrow range of expo booths.  If the expo is any indication of “set direction” for viewer testing of VR immersion, the future curation of single viewer VR in an exhibition or installation setting will have to be rethought.   As will the technological promise of a fully immersion sensory experience.

Here I’m speaking about the big white elephant standing front and center at VRLA.  I’m not referring to an actual display booth but rather the epic challenge facing tech developers of VR hardware equipment designed to handle full first person, panoramic sound.   Listening to industry experts in the SkullCandy sponsored panel devoted to “Audio for VR,” we learned sound technologies are nowhere near the ball park of keeping up with visual advancements.  

This presents both an industry opportunity and concerns for a market poised to disrupt our pervasive screen use and our situational awareness.

The concern, say panelists, is keeping the promise of VR as a seamless, immersive experience.  The opportunity rests in the hands of investors and tech gurus to develop immersive sound hardware that can synch automatically with 360 visual VR and be integrated as wearable tech.  Sound after all, is a key driver of emotion and of situational awareness in 3D game and VR film narratives.  In no uncertain terms, sound is a basic neurological mechanism, as important as visual acuity, if not more in orienting us to the immediate world around our bodies moving in space.  As panel member Martin Walsh of DTS, Inc reminded us, ‘when the lights go out, all we have is sound.’

Sound is so important that another panel, sponsored by HP, spotlighted entrepreneurs and creatives paving the way in future sonic hardware. Ossic, Subpac — these are two products to watch in the coming year along with HP’s future release of an audio jet pack.  In keeping with the restrictions posed by sound integration, we did get see, but not listen to audio prototypes.  

I guess for VRLA2016, “seeing is believing” will have to suffice.

— M A Greenstein aka “Dr G”#, RotoLab Spatial Betazoid

ps.  We will be sharing more on the role of “situational awareness” in our consulting services.

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