A multidisciplinary team from the “S3A: Future Spatial Audio” project (involving the Universities of Surrey, Salford, and Southampton, and BBC Research & Development), have showcased today an exciting spatial audio experience that will revolutionise home entertainment.
Revealed for the first time today at the British Science Festival, the immersive audio experience is like a surround sound system, but without the hassle of cables or expensive loudspeakers.
Users can test out the technology by listening to a specially created science-fiction story launched today —The Vostok-K Incident. This immersive audio drama has been created specifically to take advantage of extra connected devices. You can listen to the piece just like a normal audio drama, but the experience gets better as soon as you connect more devices, unlocking surround sound effects as well as extra hidden content.You can listen to the “The Vostok-K Incident”, here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/taster/pilots/vostok
Dr Jon Francombe, BBC’s R&D department and a member of the S3A project, said: “I think it’s important for audio research to focus on bringing great sound experiences to as many people as possible, and the S3A project team have been developing new technology to achieve that.
“One way is to make use of devices in the home that are connected to the Internet and can reproduce sound. To take advantage of this, we needed to produce the audio in a flexible format, design rules for intelligent adaptive processing, and develop techniques for connecting and synchronising the devices. Consequently, this work has been a huge collaborate effort between sound designers, research scientists and developers.
“The launch of The Vostok-K Incident represents a large step forward in taking innovative audio ideas out of the laboratory and into peoples’ homes”
In a spatial audio system that includes mobile devices, there’s no way of knowing what the setup in a listener’s living room will look like in advance. The S3A team used a technology called “object-based media” to flexibly reproduce audio, regardless of what devices people connect and where they put them.
This works by separating the sounds and having a set of instructions that describe how they can be reassembled. Dr Richard Hughes and Dr James Woodcock from the University of Salford worked on setting up and developing the tools and environment to allow producers Eloise Whitmore and Tony Churnside to mix the piece. This included setting up a production environment in the BBC R&D Usability Lab and developing a flexible rule-based mixing method, allowing the sound designer’s creative intent to be captured. Dr Richard Hughes noted: “The challenge was getting information from the producers about what should happen to individual sounds, in a way that was both intuitive and understandable from a creative perspective, but also rich enough in detail to make complex processing decisions. We then used this information – that we call metadata – to create rules that adapt the audio to any given arrangement of devices.”
Dr Philip Jackson from the Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing at the University of Surrey is also working on the project. He commented: “Sound has the power to draw you inside a story, to envelope you and to move you. Without telling you to buy a load of new loudspeakers or how you should set out your living room, we’ve combined new audio technologies to make it easier for you to have more immersive experiences at home.”
It has historically been difficult to set up surround sound systems in the home, as doing this well has required expensive wired loudspeakers in carefully controlled positions. The new system that’s been developed removes these requirements by using devices that are already available and adding the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions.
“This release marks an important milestone in the research carried out as part of the S3A project. This is a big step forward to S3A’s goal of bringing exciting and immersive experiences to listeners at home without specialist audio devices or setups. We are looking forward to realising the opportunities of the work on the future of spatial audio”, commented Prof. Adrian Hilton, Principal Investigator of S3A and Director of CVSSP at the University of Surrey.
The Vostok-K Incident was presented as part of a talk at the British Science Festival by Jon Francombe (BBC), Hanne Stenzel and Philip Jackson’s (Surrey), Beyond Surround Sound, demonstrated this innovative new technology and gave people a taste of the future of home entertainment.
The Festival is taking place from 11-14 September in Hull & the Humber and provides an opportunity to meet researchers face-to-face and discuss the latest science, technology and engineering. This year’s event is hosted by the University of Hull and supported by Ørsted and RB.