Imagine that you’re inside of a futuristic gymnasium, when a small, glowing ball comes careening at your head. You deflect it back using a small racket in your hand, aiming it towards a glowing green hexagon on the wall. As your time window to hit that dot decreases, the pitch of the target becomes frantic and hurried. Your pulse races, and then suddenly, the game’s over.
That was very much like an experience I got to see at a private suite demonstration from Waves Audio. The company was showcasing their new 3D audio tracker, called the Waves Nx, and their new title that utilizes the device: Racket: Nx. This is the first title that utilizes the Waves Nx 3D Audio technology.
The Waves Nx is a 3D audio tracker that creates a surround sound 5.1 or 7.1 experience using your headphones. It feeds 3D audio or source-encoded 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound through an application that runs on Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. The slightly easier to comprehend version of that is through example: imagine that you are talking with your friend in a quiet room. When he faces you directly, his tone sounds normal. However, when he turns away and starts talking, you can notice a subtle difference in the pitch of his voice. It’s softer, and at a lower frequency compared to when he was facing you directly. The sounds are bouncing off other objects in the room. The Waves Nx audio technology puts you at the center of sound localization, without a loss or change in pitch.
A second example that could be used is from watching TV. If you sit in front of the TV and speakers, you get the “normalized” form of the sound; in contrast, if you move to a different location, the sound will be different. Again, the Waves Nx prevents that loss in sound pitch.
Waves Audio got into the VR sphere by releasing the Nx Virtual Mix Room plugin for audio professionals, which created a virtual audio listening experience and mix room using any regular headphone set. The company aimed to totally immerse the user in a virtual soundscape that uses an HMD to emulate soundwaves reaching the ear from above, below, and all around the user.
The Waves Nx is a small, lightweight device that uses one AAA battery and lasts approximately 40 hours. It connects using a small rubber band strap that attaches to the top of any headphone kit. The kit uses Bluetooth technology to connect to any number of devices including mobile, PC, and Mac using different apps catered towards each device. Once the Nx connects to Bluetooth, indicated by a flashing blue light on top of the Nx, the app can be used to enable the 3D audio listening mode, a mode that can be turned on or off at the press of a button on-screen. So, how does the Waves Nx apply to games?
Going back to the space gymnasium example in Racket: Nx, the Waves Nx allows for a much more immersive gaming experience. Sounds in the game can become a lot more pronounced. In the VR sphere, let’s say you’re playing a shooter and you hear noises behind you. Turn your head towards that stimulus, and the sound becomes much more pronounced. In a space game demo, the noises of the targets behind me became higher pitched once I acknowledged its location relative to my own. Racket: Nx required quick reflexes and instincts, as well as a good understanding of spatial awareness. It’s an audio-centric experience that focuses on a surrounding dome, and a ball that emitted sound when it hit a wall.
The sounds became crucial in knowing where to aim the ball; players can attract the ball using a button on the remote, but that came with penalties as extended usage broke the racket in-game and resulted in lost time. Using the a VR headset, players get the opportunity to experience a virtual soundscape and move around freely in the virtual environment.
Priced at $79.99, the Waves Nx makes for a much more immersive gaming and listening experience. It’d be great to see this technology make more waves in gaming, especially in the VR fold which focuses a lot more on creating an immersive experience.
CLARIFICATION: You don’t need the Waves Nx head tracker for the Racket: Nx game itself. The game has the Waves Nx 3D audio experience built into it and supported on the HTC Vive. The separate audio device is primarily used for desktop and mobile applications to deliver a spatial audio experience to any headset. Using it with a VR headset will enhance the audio experience, but it’s not required.