At AES: Virtual Reality, Audio's Future

At this year’s Opening Ceremonies for the AES Convention, the standing room-only crowd was treated to looks back—as the Audio Engineering Society honored the achievements of its members and industry pioneers—and a considerable look ahead, as Keynote Speaker Michael Abrash, chief scientist of Oculus, the company behind the upcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, who discussed the implications of Virtual Reality for pro audio.
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Keynote Speaker Michael AbrashAt this year’s Opening Ceremonies for the AES Convention, the standing room-only crowd was treated to looks back—as the Audio Engineering Society honored the achievements of its members and industry pioneers—and a considerable look ahead, as Keynote Speaker Michael Abrash, chief scientist of Oculus, the company behind the upcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, who discussed the implications of Virtual Reality for pro audio.

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“The timing of giving this keynote couldn’t be better because virtual reality is right on the cusp of taking off,” he said. “Great consumer VR will be readily available next year and audio is going to be a key part of its success. At the same time, VR is going to open up new areas of audio research and engineering. It’s already giving new importance to previously esoteric areas.... While most people think about VR about being about visual use of a headset, I can’t think of anything that could be more exciting for the future of audio than virtual reality.

“VR’s unique power is the ability to do something no other medium has done—drive our perceptual systems, creating experiences that feel real. It may not be obvious as to why VR is so different from television or IMAX or computer games, but it is in fact something fundamentally new, rather than just more of the same.”

The Keynote found Abrash using references as varied as YouTube videos highlighting the McGurk Effect—a perceptual trick underlining the connection between vision and hearing by pairing the audio of one spoken word with the visual of another word being spoken—and Morpheus’ speech about the nature of reality in the sci-fi classic, The Matrix. Ultimately, he explained how the senses are used to reconstruct reality within our brains, as he focused on hearing and the complex challenges that audio still faces in virtual reality realms—issues that he expects to be cleared up within 20 years.