Introduced in October last year, Spatial Workstation is a free software suite made by Facebook 360 for designing spatial audio for 360 video and cinematic VR. Speaking yesterday at the Video@Scale conference — and in a subsequent blog post on the Facebook Code website — developers Hans Fugal and Varun Nair discussed publicly for first time the the technical details behind the toolset.
Developed by Facebook’s 360 Audio team, the technology allows editors and sound designers to ensuring the quality of their audio is maintained regardless of delivery format. The 360 audio and rendering technology means you can created the same listening experience whether the end user is using Oculus hardware, a desktop browser running Facebook or a mobile device.
The 360 audio encoding and rendering software can be downloaded and used as a plug-in within Pro Tools, Nuendo and Reaper and boasts support for hybrid higher-order Ambisonics. For the uninitiated, higher-order Ambisoncs is a more complex version of the Ambisonics format, akin to that used by Soundfield mics, but uses eight channels rather than the typical four. Thanks to some clever optimisation, the hybrid variety of higher-order Ambisonics lets you reap the benefits of those extra channels. It provides better sound quality and improved source localisation, while using less bandwidth.
Perhaps more intriguingly, the new system simultaneously supports both head-locked and head-tracking, spatialised audio. This technology means that sound designers can create both static narration and music, while still employing dynamic, scene-based audioscapes that follow head movements. Rendering with hybrid higher-order Ambisonics and head-locked audio simultaneously is a first for the industry.
In their post on Facebook’s Code website, Fugal and Nair claim that their spatial audio renderer works virtually in real-time with impressive latency figures of less than one millisecond. Having such a low latency minimises the possibility of a user being pulled out of their 360 experience, which can only be a good thing for the format.