Awesome audio: MDO concept immerses listeners in sound

Consumers could experience sound from films or games in a more immersive 3D way following the development of a concept that links multiple devices that have audio output.

3D audio

The Media Device Orchestration (MDO) concept has been developed at Surrey University in collaboration with the Universities of Salford and Southampton, and BBC Research & Development. It was presented at the Audio Mostly conference in London on 24 August 2017.

Using the MDO concept, researchers say they have demonstrated a 3D or ‘spatial audio’ experience that can be achieved by employing everyday home devices in the living room such as a laptop, smartphone or wireless mini-speaker. The technology is said to isolate different elements within audio content (such as a particular voice), and connecting them to separate speakers available around the room.

Surrey University claims the concept could enable consumers to experience films, games, programmes and music in a far more immersive, multi-layered and exciting way.

It is possible to create 3D listening experiences using current spatial audio technology, but this requires a complex set-up involving a multitude of speakers located at exact points in relation to the listener. Because of these limitations, the technology cannot easily be replicated in a domestic situation and is generally limited to specialist environments.

The MDO research is part of the £5.4m five-year S3A project, funded by EPSRC, which is aimed at delivering a step-change in the quality of audio consumed by the general public.

The development of immersive spatial audio systems has become a major focus for the audio research community and home audio industry in recent years for a number of reasons. With the advent of advanced home video technology such as 3D TV, there is a need for audio technology to ‘catch up’ in order to match the visual experience. At the same time, the growth of Virtual Reality for video games and other applications is creating demand for a sense of sound which is all around the user.

In addition to ‘channel-based’ sound production (in which the reproduction system is fixed before the content is broadcast), ‘object-based’ audio has recently emerged on the commercial market with the launch of technologies such as Dolby Atmos. The object-based audio technology has enabled the S3A researchers to access each separate part of an audio scene, intelligently routing them to improve the listener experience.

Dr Philip Jackson, senior lecturer in Machine Audition at Surrey, said: “Most consumer audio transmitted into our homes is in the form of two-channel stereo which uses basic principles that have been around for over 130 years. To date, sophisticated multi-channel audio techniques have not helped to improve the listening experience for the general public. Our aim is to take spatial audio out of the lab and into people’s homes, and give users the impression of being at the heart of the action while in their living room.”

The MDO concept is now being further developed by the S3A team in order to automate the process of ‘labelling’ sounds and connecting them with available speakers.

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