Google Cardboard’s SDK Gets Spatial Audio Support

When you think about virtual reality, you probably think about visuals and imagery and immersive far-off places. However, the key to a really fantastic immersive experience is not only what you see, but what you hear. And not just what you hear, but how you hear it.

Google announced today that its Cardboard SDKs for Unity and Android now support spatial audio. I spoke to Nathan Martz, the PM on Cardboard, yesterday about it and he told me about the goal of the SDK:

We want to make building VR experiences as easy as using Cardboard.

That’s a pretty lofty goal, but it’s what the team is working toward. The spatial audio functionality was worked on mainly by an acquired company, ThriveAudio. It will allow creators to control the direction of sounds in an immersive experience. For example, you will hear someone walking behind you. You’ll hear a plane flying overhead in the far-off distance:

The SDK combines the physiology of a listener’s head with the positions of virtual sound sources to determine what users hear. For example: sounds that come from the right will reach a user’s left ear with a slight delay, and with fewer high frequency elements (which are normally dampened by the skull).

The SDK lets you specify the size and material of your virtual environment, both of which contribute to the quality of a given sound. So you can make a conversation in a tight spaceship sound very different than one in a large, underground (and still virtual) cave.

Martz tells me that it’s super important to make the quality of audio fantastic for Cardboard experiences, while also optimizing it to run well on a smartphone.

After learning yesterday that the Cardboard unit has a new focused lead in Clay Bavor, the two-year-old “20% project” is something the company is taking seriously.