Sound and Communication in Virtual Reality
Gregory Kramer CLARITY, Santa Fe Institute
Audition, like vision, is fundamental to our understanding of the world. However, in the design of virtual worlds, audition has been a poor cousin to vision, having largely been relegated to trivial enhancements of visualizations. Considering virtual world design from the standpoint of Biocca ( 1994) "Communication Design Matrix" (a means of evaluating communication media; see Table 9.1), auditory display techniques can touch every aspect of a comprehensive communications system. This chapter investigates sound and the immersive interface from this comprehensive perspective.
As we acknowledge the importance of audition in everyday life, so should we accept the importance of audition for communication in virtual reality. VR is, after all, sensed and processed by the same perceptual systems as those which apprehend the physical world. Biocca has noted a number of qualities inherent to any comprehensive communication system, including: extending our creative thought processes, amplifying experience, acting in concert with others, and making physical transformation more perceivable. Visible representations play a role in a number of these. So do audible representations. That audio has been heretofore overlooked to the extent that it has is more a comment on the visual bias of many system designers, rather than any reflection on the utility of audio for communication.
In our evaluation of the role of sound in a VR system, we will use Biocca's criteria. As we shall see, auditory display touches some of his elements lightly although it offers to others the potential for profound extension.
Current audio implementations in immersive worlds can be categorized into three basic technologies: namely, sample playback, synthesized sound