Two Big Ears
Accessible, real-time binaural audio -Two Big Ears
This week, we headed over to Two Big Ears’ office in Edinburgh to learn about and try out their binaural audio engine, 3Dception. Abesh Thakur and Varun Nair, co-founders of Two Big Ears and alumni of the University of Edinburgh, have filled a large void in the world of games development – binaural audio. Binaural audio, or 3D audio, has existed in academia as a concept for a while but was resource intensive making it unsuitable for large scale commercial use. 3Dception is a real-time 3D audio and environmental modelling engine. It calculates the position of the ‘actor’ in the game and the environment around them to give a fully immersive audio experience as the sound reacts to real-time situation. The final result can be heard over an ordinary pair of stereo headphones, including the ones you carry around in your bag all day.
An easy solution for binaural audio on all platforms
Abesh explained what Two Big Ears was all about. The beauty of the system is that it can plug directly into the existing engine that drives the game. This means developers and sound engineers don’t have to learn how to use a new interface from scratch, but can just implement 3Dception without hassle. Originally designed for the Android platform, it works on Android and iOS apps as well as being able to be scaled up to power high-intensity PC games for Linux, MacOs and Windows. Currently, Two Big Ears is working with a high-end GPU manufacturer to enable GPU scaling to spread the resource load between the CPU and the GPU. There are open source binaural audio SDKs around but Two Big Ears claims to stand above the rest, offering much better CPU efficiency, scalability, easy to use interfaces and premium customer support to make them accessible to their customer. As Abesh put it, for big game developers, waiting 2 months to get a reply on a forum just doesn’t cut it.
How does it affect gamers?
As mentioned earlier, Two Big Ears uses the environment and position of the characters in-game to calculate what sound you, in first person VR, should be hearing. This includes sound reflections off walls, acoustic modellings and currently, they are working on occlusion and advanced sound propagation. Traditionally, if you wanted to have sound muffled when behind a door, you would just put a simple low pass filter on it and have a pre-muffled recording. 3Dception, when occlusion comes out, will be able to do this procedurally and in real-time to make the sound in-game all the more realistic, immersing you completely in VR. We got to try out the demo which Two Big Ears were giving at GDC this year. The demo shows you a few features that 3Dception is able to do. The sound was highly realistic and you could pinpoint exactly where everything was just by its noise. Machines working in the background changed the positions on the headphones as you looked around giving you the feel as though you were in a real room. Robots soared by you echoing off the hallway walls, and then turning around corners, changing the sound accordingly in real-time.
Two Big Ears promises to bring gamers into a fully immersive virtual reality. The realistic acoustics allows VR users to completely convince themselves that they are fully within the world they see. As Two Big Ears says “We help you see through your ears”. Once you’ve tried binaural audio, you’ll know exactly what that means. 3Dception offers users a chance to feel alive within their virtual world and allows developers to create fully immersive games without the tens of hours of work needed to replicate a functioning binaural audio. It works on popular Desktop and Mobile platforms and is hardware agnostic so customers don’t have to buy new headphones or GPUs, and game developers don’t have to come out with different versions for different platforms. Head over to Two Big Ears and check them out. They offer 3Dception for Unity, Wwise and FMOD as well a Cinematic VR 3D audio pipeline for 360 videos and Cinematic VR experiences.