Xbox and Dolby are “breaking new ground” in the way they use sound to make videogames more realistic.
Dolby has created audio technology that can precisely place sound in a room, move it and bounce it off surfaces, giving gamers the feeling that the action is happening around them, rather than just on the screen they are looking at.
Dolby Atmos is embedded in the Xbox One X, the most powerful console ever made, as well as the Xbox One S and Windows 10. It allows gamers to hear helicopters as if they were really flying above them, as well as other characters behind them, for example.
“In real life we hear sounds from all around us, and you want that in a game, too. You want to know if a person is going to attack you from behind,” said Rob France, Senior Product Manager at Dolby Laboratories. “If you listen in stereo, you only hear that person coming from in front of you; your reaction time slows a little because you’re not feeling it in the same way you’re used to experiencing it. Dolby Atmos takes that to the higher level by bringing in things like planes coming overhead; and any sound made when someone is about to attack you, you are going to hear that before you see it.
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“All these helicopters that we listen to in 5:1 [six speakers placed around a room] have never gone overhead. How many times in a game like Gears of War 4 do you get attacked from overhead? Dolby Atmos gives you that cue to think: ‘Right, I need to quickly turn around’. You can now sit within that scene, and it’s a much more natural way of getting a competitive advantage.
“Xbox and Dolby are breaking new ground. This is a really exciting development that makes a big difference to what can be achieved.”
Dolby Atmos works by placing speakers around a room, in the same way as a home theatre system. However, Dolby can calibrate its products to deliver sound in a specific area, rather than just emit it. Furthermore, the front speaker contains upward-firing drivers than bounce sound off the ceiling to give gamers the feeling that the action is taking place above their heads.
The result is “stunning” in first-person franchises such as the hugely popular Gears of War, France said during an event at Dolby’s European headquarters in London. He added that developers were starting to think more about how they used sound in a range of genres.
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“Look at football games that have players around you; you can feel that environment with the crowd above you,” he said. “We will start to see more innovative uses of it [Dolby Atmos].”
While Dolby Atmos was created in 2012, it has only recently moved from being a luxury item to something more affordable for everyday gamers in their home.
Most consumers will either buy a Dolby-Atmos-enabled soundbar, or download the Dolby Access app, free for a 30-day trial, to their Xbox One X, Xbox One S or Windows 10 PC to experience that sound through headphones.
“The entry-level soundbars in the UK are around £700 because they have only been out about 18 months. But we will start to see more trends in pricing heading down; what we saw with home theatre systems was that they went in at the high end and they are now down to the lower of the middle tier,” France said.
He pointed out that matching Dolby Atmos with an HDR TV was “beautiful” and “brings [games] to life”.
Harvey Eagle, the head of Xbox in the UK and Ireland, agreed. He told the UK News Centre last month that Dolby Atmos and the power of the Xbox One X gives gamers “a level of immersion in your gaming environment that I haven’t experienced in any other console”.
The Xbox One X offers 40% more power than rival devices. Its six-teraflop engine and built-in supersampling gives gamers better textures, smoother framerates and faster load times, even on a 1080p TV. Players can record game clips in 4K at 60 frames per second and capture 4K screenshots.
“I’m really excited about the Xbox One X, it’s a great platform,” France said. “Dolby and Microsoft have created an experience that makes a real difference to gamers.”