In today’s global business environment, the ability to work remotely offers a huge work-life improvement and ultimately saves on travel and environmental costs. One thing still holding us back, however, is the lack of proper teleconferencing systems. Despite the various solutions available, attempting to work remotely and conduct conference calls with 5-10 people located in various places across the globe is a hugely disappointing and unproductive experience.
In a real meeting, I can tell different voices apart very easily because I have two ears and can hear which direction a certain voice is coming from. Not so with any teleconferencing system I have tried. You can’t distinguish between different voices, you can’t hear one person because of noise coming from someone else, someone is speaking extremely loud compared to others, voice quality is poor overall, etc, etc. So, instead of focusing on the topic you were supposed to discuss, you expend most of your energy trying to discern who’s speaking and what they’re actually saying.
Such technical limitations make working remotely really hard since you’re too detached from the rest of the team to communicate effectively. Here at Dirac, when a meeting is really important we turn to physical meetings instead. An important negotiation simply cannot be held over a conferencing system.
But what if virtual reality could come to the rescue? The central priority here is voice intelligibility. If you could discern who’s who without any effort, and if that voice were free from noise and other coloration, conference calls would become almost as productive as regular meetings.
One might suggest that audio bandwidth limitations are the root of the problem. But come on, we stream high-quality HiFi music at full bandwidth every day. That’s not the issue. To discern who I am hearing, I certainly need sufficient bandwidth, but more importantly I need better voice processing and better rendering.
By utilizing positional audio technologies for headphones (especially those with head tracking, such as Dirac VR), a sound source can be positioned at a specific location in space and thereby help tremendously with the identification of who’s talking at any given time. So, the first step to improved teleconferencing is to use positional audio technology (see In HiFi, Virtual Reality Might Be Better Than Reality) to position each speaker at a specific location.
The second step would be to optimize your headset using impulse and frequency response correction (see Dirac HD Sound) to remove coloration that makes voices sound nasal or harsh, or otherwise unnatural. The job of a voice solution is to transmit a transparent, true to life voice.
Just these two steps would result in a huge improvement for productivity and a measurable increase in GDP. Still, noise (and echoes, etc) need to be taken care of either on the far end or the receiving end (or both). The microphones used to record the voice can’t be expected to be perfect, but through spatial processing of the input signals and using various techniques for noise and echo reduction, as well as automatic gain control, we take yet another step towards making a conference call just like any other meeting.
These are by no means new ideas, but it is troubling to see that even today the “state of the art” still fails to remove noise and echoes or keep each voice at the right (and equal) volume.
At Dirac, we feel it’s time for a change. On the playback side, we have solutions ready today that can dramatically improve the teleconferencing experience. On the recording side, we were recently awarded with funding to develop new algorithms for directional recording by Vinnova, a Swedish research funding agency. And we already have prototypes for new, improved beam-forming solutions that can help record a desired signal and keep undesired noise out. In short, teleconferencing is about to get a lot more productive.
And here we’re just talking about relatively simple conference calls. Using VR helmets and more advanced audio and visual technologies, there is a very real possibility that we will soon be recruiting people to be part of a team without caring too much about where that person happens to be located. What a change for life, work, and the whole world! Think of the implications for infrastructure, the opportunities for people in developing countries, the environment, and, ultimately, the way we perceive the world. When a virtual presence becomes “close enough” to a real physical presence, the world will not be the same anymore. We have already seen it in science fiction. And now we are starting to see glimpses that indicate this may soon be our reality. How soon will it happen? I dare not guess.
- Mathias Johansson, CEO at Dirac Research
Dirac VR launched in the US market at CES 2017 and in the European market at MWC 2017, where it was demoed by industry analysts, VR/AR manufacturers, consumer technology reporters, and HiFi audio enthusiasts. Reviews have been unanimously and resoundingly strong, with Dirac VR being described by some of the world’s most discerning tech journalists as “startlingly realistic,” “eerily convincing,” and as an audio platform that leaves you “speechless” and “might just change the way people experience VR.” Click here to learn more.