Binaural and Spatial Hearing in Real and Virtual Environments

Binaural and Spatial Hearing in Real and Virtual Environments

Binaural and Spatial Hearing in Real and Virtual Environments

Binaural and Spatial Hearing in Real and Virtual Environments

Synopsis

The current popular and scientific interest in virtual environments has provided a new impetus for investigating binaural and spatial hearing. However, the many intriguing phenomena of spatial hearing have long made it an exciting area of scientific inquiry. Psychophysical and physiological investigations of spatial hearing seem to be converging on common explanations of underlying mechanisms. These understandings have in turn been incorporated into sophisticated yet mathematically tractable models of binaural interaction. Thus, binaural and spatial hearing is one of the few areas in which professionals are soon likely to find adequate physiological explanations of complex psychological phenomena that can be reasonably and usefully approximated by mathematical and physical models.

This volume grew out of the Conference on Binaural and Spatial Hearing, a four-day event held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in response to rapid developments in binaural and spatial hearing research and technology. Meant to be more than just a proceedings, it presents chapters that are longer than typical proceedings papers and contain considerably more review material, including extensive bibliographies in many cases.

Arranged into topical sections, the chapters represent major thrusts in the recent literature. The authors of the first chapter in each section have been encouraged to take a broad perspective and review the current state of literature. Subsequent chapters in each section tend to be somewhat more narrowly focused, and often emphasize the authors' own work. Thus, each section provides overview, background, and current research on a particular topic. This book is significant in that it reviews the important work during the past 10 to 15 years, and provides greater breadth and depth than most of the previous works.

Excerpt

The current popular and scientific interest in virtual environments has provided a new impetus for investigating binaural and spatial hearing. However, the many intriguing phenomena of spatial hearing have long made it an exciting area of scientific inquiry. The fact that a biological system is sensitive to a 10-¼s interaural difference in time seems, at first glance, almost unimaginable. Striking perceptual effects can be achieved with relatively simple stimulus manipulations; for example, it is often possible to achieve an extremely compelling sense of presence in a remote environment, simply by listening binaurally to the output of microphones placed in the ear canals of a manikin head in that environment. Psychophysical and physiological investigations of spatial hearing seem to be converging on common explanations of underlying mechanisms. These understandings have in turn been incorporated into sophisticated yet mathematically tractable models of binaural interaction. Thus, binaural and spatial hearing is one of the few areas in which we are soon likely to find adequate physiological explanations of complex psychological phenomena, which can be reasonably and usefully approximated by mathematical and physical models.

In most situations, auditory spatial acuity is not match for visual or tactile spatial acuity; nevertheless, the auditory system has several strengths to recommend it as a spatial system. The auditory system can provide nearly continuous spatial information; it is not particularly dependent on light level, state of adaptation, or physical contact to function properly. We have no lids to cover our ears and seem to maintain some sense of the auditory spatial environment even during sleep. Although spatial misperceptions can occur with unusual stimuli, in unusual environments, when head movements are restricted, or when conflicting spatial information is provided from other sensory systems, most often the system operates reliably even in extremely complex acoustic environments. Finally, although spatial acuity for sounds arriving from the rear is not as good as for sounds arriving from the front, audition is a 360° sense; as such, it is well suited to act as a warning system and to direct the head and eyes toward important events in the environment.

During the past two decades, the field of binaural and spatial hearing has undergone significant intellectual growth and technological development. Prior to the 1980s, most research in this field was limited to headphone presentation of the stimuli with simple overall interaural differences in time and level. Such stimuli are only spatial in a very limited sense, with sounds typically being heard as lying within the head along the interaural axis. Studying spatial hearing with real sources arrayed in space around the subject was often difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. When such stimuli are presented in reverberant environments, the careful calibration and stimulus control that are standard in most psychophysical experiments can be difficult or impossible to achieve. On the other hand, presenting such stimuli in an anechoic environment requires a considerable capital . . .

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