VR UX: Sound Advice

In this episode, learn how to use various types of sounds as tools to drive realism and increase immersion in your VR experience.

I'm Seth Schneider, and this is VR UX. This time, we talk about sound and how you can use it to drive realism in your VR world.

There are three types of sound the developers should pay attention to when audio designing for a VR experience: spatial sound, ambient context, and ubiquitous sound effects. Spatial sound is what ties a sound to a user's location, and it is an important cue for users navigating the virtual world. A lack of spatial sound or a mismatch in the perceived source of the sound will draw the user's attention away from the virtual world. For that reason, most or all sounds should be spatialized.

You can do this in a multitude of ways, starting with the hardware. Assist users in making sure their headphones and sound settings are configured correctly to optimize the sound experience. Another thing to keep in mind is music. Music should be spatialized, especially if it is tied to a menu or UI element, as opposed to being ambient. It is better to embrace sound expectations rather than subvert them.

For example, when a user hears birds, they are likely to look up because of their experience in the real world, even if that noise has been spatialized below them. Sound should get louder as the player gets closer to the source. This includes the leaning of their head, not just the movement of their avatar. The orientation of the user—whether they are facing toward or away from something—should also affect the quality and magnitude of the sound. Avoid invisible or unidentifiable sources of noise, unless the goal is to create a sense of confusion and deliberately unnerve the player.

Another important role of sound is ambient context. It sets the stage for a scene and brings the player into the virtual world both perceptually and emotionally. For example, the ambient wind sounds and critter chirps of a forest enrich the environment, while the ethereal music sets the mood and communicates tone to the users. Low levels of ambient sound can also serve to mask noise from the user's actual environment, decreasing distractions from the virtual world. However, it's important that ambient sound does not drown out the spatial sound. If the ambient noises are too dominant, they will make it difficult for the users to locate sounds from other characters or events.

Finally, there are ubiquitous sound effects. Just as users expect everything in their environment to respond visually to their interactions, they also expect everything to have a realistic audio response. Whenever an object is grasped, dropped, thrown, or manipulated, users will expect a sound effect that matches. Specificity of the sound effect is important. Different objects make different sounds, and users will be attuned to mismatches between their expectation and the sound that they hear. Recognizable sounds that mimic reality tend to work better with realistic looking VR environments.

However, if the VR environment is more cartoon-like, you can explore with more unfamiliar sounds. This will help maintain immersion. Making realistic sound that responds to our users' actions in a VR space helps the user stay immersed in your experience, and will increase the quality of your application overall. But you didn't hear it from me.

Thanks for watching. To learn more, check out the links provided, and don't forget to like this video and subscribe to the Intel® Software YouTube* channel. We'll see you next week for more VR UX.