What is 360 Audio?
360 Audio is the term used to describe 360 degree videos that include a specific audio file digitally recreating sound in all 360 degrees creating an illusion for users ears as if they were in the actual environment. For traditional music, there are two channels, representing left and right. For 360 audio, there are at least 4 channels, containing audio from in front, behind, to the left, to the right, and even from above the viewer.
Why does it matter?
The purpose of a 360 video is to convince the viewer’s eyes into believing they are actually in the digitally created environment. A viewer of a 360 video can see exactly where they are with their eyes but, cannot hear where they are with their ears. People tend to underestimate how important the sense of hearing is to understanding the environment they are in. Where our eyes can only see what is in front of our head, our ears can hear in all 360 directions no matter which direction the head is facing.
How is it used?
A common problem with 360 video is that a view can see around 110° or about 1/3 of the video at any given time. 360 audio allows the viewer to see in detail what is happening in front of them, while being able to hear what is happening in any direction they are not looking. 360 audio can be used for cues to direct a user to look in a certain direction. In a 360 video, a persons voice could be used as a cue. These cues can also be used creatively within the 360 video for example birds flying, or a car driving. The extra layer of environmental information for the viewer can convince not only 1 but 2 of their senses that they are in truly in a new place.
“Sound is 50 percent of the movie going experience, and I've always believed audiences are moved and excited by what they hear in my movies at least as much as by what they see”
- George Lucas
Platforms for viewing 360 videos with 360 audio
YouTube - YouTube allows users to upload 360 videos with up to 4 channels of 360 audio. YouTube is one of the best places to upload 360 videos with 360 sound because of its massive size and scale. The only downside with uploading 360 videos to YouTube is their lack of support for videos with a higher number of audio channels.
Facebook / Oculus / Samsung - Facebook (owner of Oculus) chosen to create a standard 360 video / audio file across all of their platforms. Their file format supports up to 8 channels for 360 audio. It also supports a head locked stereo track, used for voice over and music, which increases mixing flexibility and will be discussed further.
Note: I prefer to always mix with the Facebook format due to the increased mixing flexibility and added sound source localization. Depending on who the client is or what the video consists of, I recommend sticking to one due to the simplicity.
If you have never experienced a video with 360 video, there is one at the bottom of this post. I recorded, edited, and mixed the audio and video along with fellow student, Julian Messina. Please listen with headphones and user your mouse to click and drag to change the direction. Take note of the direction the sounds are coming from.