Today, audio-visual technology is one of the major flagships of innovation — and it isn’t hard to see why. How we process and consume audio-visual content has changed dramatically in recent years.
The creation of virtual or augmented reality environments has introduced significant advancements in online shopping and education. Other areas, like VR, are tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time. The 1000 Cut Journey is an example, which lets you put on a VR headset and experience what it’s like as a young Black man.
Immersive audio, including real-time spatial audio, is fundamentally shaping how consumers experience sound. Apple is leading the charge with its Airpods Pro and Max headphones that support spatial audio, and other hardware companies, like Qualcomm, are jumping into the race, too.
Many developers have already taken advantage of High Fidelity’s real-time Spatial Audio API to spatialize and mix hundreds of sound sources of low latency and bandwidth via the web.
In this article, we’ll discuss these (and other) significant advances in audio-visual technology. By the end, you’ll have everything you need to identify which is suitable for your digital application, game, or website.
4 Audio-Visual Technology Trends for 2021
Interactive meetings and tools to keep businesses and individuals connected are leading to massive opportunities for forward-thinking developers. Adopting new audio and video tech is creating experiences that wouldn’t be possible in the analog world alone.
At High Fidelity, we are proud to be part of the next generation of audio development by providing real-time spatial audio. Before we get into how our API helps developers, let’s talk about the first audio-visual trend — augmented reality.
1. Augmented Reality
Every year it seems like virtual reality gets closer to its big breakout. But despite significant developments, VR for mass entertainment is leagues from its “iPhone moment.” One reason is that the headsets are unappealing for most people to wear for a variety of reasons. You can read more about this topic in Philip Rosedale’s Requiem for the HMD blog post.
The adoption rate of Augmented Reality, on the other hand, is on the rise. Major companies like Apple, Google, and IKEA are putting AR in the hands of millions of consumers. It's wise to dig deeper into this trend...
Both AR and VR use next-generation computer technology to immerse users within a digital environment. The goal is to blur the line between digital and analog, making it feel, look, and even smell like you're in a new world.
So why is AR going mainstream?
Because it’s mobile. Another major reason is big tech companies like Google and Apple are investing more in developer tools, like ARCore and ARKit 4 respectively, to create more AR applications and experiences. There’s also LiDAR technology built into the cameras of mobile devices now, which adds even more mobile AR possibilities.
2. Collaborative Meeting Spaces
The recent pandemic has accelerated the paradigm shift for remote work and communication. Businesses have adapted a remote-first mindset quicker because they had to — but it hasn’t been without significant new challenges. “Zoom Fatigue” is a new phenomenon that we now face.
To address some of the remote-work challenges, companies like Hubbub offer collaborative meeting spaces allowing participants to work together in real-time, making it easy to share and discuss in a more comfortable setting that feels less remote. Hosts can choose from a variety of “aspirational” spaces designed by architects and interior designers.
One of the challenges of remote collaboration is recreating the synergy of face-to-face interactions. When exchanging ideas over a design project at a college desk, for instance, the energy is not the same in a remote environment. That’s where tools like Figma and Mural come in, helping designers collaborate on projects as if they’re working side-by-side.
Companies like Around are prioritizing the psychology of remote work, helping developers and designers overcome digital fatigue. Their tools incorporate energy-charged videos and AI that help teams focus on their productivity and mood.
With collaborative meeting spaces becoming common, many wonder if working “in the office” is becoming a thing of the past. As more teams incorporate solutions like the ones mentioned, it will be up to the savvy developers to solve the plethora of challenges that will continue to emerge.
We’ll start seeing a hybrid model and that the pendulum will continue to swing back and forth for some time as there is no “perfect” arrangement.
3. Spatial Audio
When you listen to a hit pop song, unless you’re in the industry, you’re unlikely to think about all of the production involved to create the recording. A studio with finely tuned acoustics, high-end gear, and skilled audio engineer all factor into the released commercial track. We expect polished stereo sound, and anything less can seem off to our conditioned ears.
But recently, spatial audio is setting a new standard for quality by changing the way people consume sound beyond listening to music. The popularity of podcasts continues to grow, social audio apps are emerging (like Clubhouse), and we’re spending more time communicating from a distance with our voices.
With spatial audio, a listener hears sounds coming from different locations, which is how our brains process sound in the physical word, which makes them more intelligible.
Related reading: What Is Spatial Audio?
This is especially important in remote meetings with multiple speakers. Understanding who is speaking during a call using a video conferencing tool like Zoom is only possible if you’re looking to see which square has a box around it because everyone’s voice sounds like it is coming from the same place.
The same is true with an audio-only app like Clubhouse — you have to use your eyes more than your ears to tell who’s talking — which is still hard to do if not everyone who’s not talking isn’t muted.
Spatial audio allows your brain to process sound like you would in-person, which drastically improves clarity when people are talking simultaneously. It can be painful to hear more than one person talk at the same time on a video conferencing call that people bend over backwards to avoid doing it — which causes a whole other set of awkwardness: “You go now… No, you go… No, you were first…”
Even podcasts with multiple speakers sound much better when recorded using spatial audio. Listen to this short clip with five people talking on an episode of the podcast Team Human.
When you move closer to a sound source in a video game, the quality of the sound changes, just as it would in real life. A whisper over the shoulder or a shout in the distance hits the ears as it would if you were in the scene. Even a grammy-winning stereo mix can’t recreate that experience.
Spatial audio is catching on for the same reason as AR: device accessibility.
Here’s what Philip here at High Fidelity says about the near future:
“People will have very comfortable earpieces that they can wear all day on battery power. These devices will know where your head is pointing, so they will be able to anchor spatial sounds in the real world.”
An example is hearing a remote co-worker coming from a position straight across your kitchen counter. The devices themselves will pass through sounds from the real world perfectly. By looking at someone in the distance, the headphones will help hear them better. And that’s just the beginning...
At High Fidelity, our goal is to make it easy for developers to incorporate spatial audio into their web and mobile applications. Our real-time Spatial Audio API lets developers build an app like Clubhouse in a couple of hours.
Read more about the API here.
4. Digital Events
In recent years, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, event promoters have been forced to adopt a remote-first approach to conferences and similar events. For many, the transition from live events to digital events was a bit jarring.
However, thanks to major advances in audio-visual technology, promoters have the resources to deliver a similar experience that you might receive if you were actually at a live event. This approach has extended to other industries as well, including music.
“With large gatherings limited during the Coronavirus pandemic, artists are experimenting with new ways to perform, and some of these shows are already attracting millions of fans globally,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
“The pandemic has fueled other innovations like multiplayer video game concerts. On April 23, more than 12 million Fortnite players attended Travis Scott’s 10-minute virtual performance,” continues WSJ.
Here’s another example: Check out this virtual concert by Terra Naomi and hear what it sounds like to be next to the performer and surrounded by other people clapping and cheering — the power of Spatial Audio.
While the future of live events remains uncertain as we continue to navigate a post-virus world, digital events will continue to shape the way consumers engage, interact, and consume live content.
Personally, I think we’ll see in-person events make a comeback but I think virtual and hybrid events are likely here to stay for a number of reasons. For example, bigger audiences can be reached at a lower cost and climate change is going to continue to make people reconsider non-essential travel.
Forge Your Path to Audio Mastery With High Fidelity
High Fidelity’s Real-Time Spatial Audio API is at the bleeding edge of audio-visual technology developments. It’s a simple and effective way to spatialize hundreds of sound sources at low latency.
With just a few lines of code, you can integrate the Spatial Audio API into your application or game to create a real-time immersive audio experience for your customers or players. High-quality audio may just be the difference between a good app or game and an incredible one—stand out with superior sound.