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How many games have their own virtual surround sound?

Discussion in 'Video Games Discussion' started by lukeman3000, Apr 7, 2016.
  1. lukeman3000
    I am thoroughly confused. I always thought that I needed a sound card with virtual surround sound technology (like CMSS-3D headphone or Dolby Headphone) in order to get virtual surround sound in my games.
    However, recently on reddit some guy tried telling me that "all games have virtual surround sound" and that all you need is your onboard audio.
    First of all, that's just not true, right? Let's take a modern game such as Tom Clancy's The Divison. If you just plug your headphones in (without something like CMSS-3D), you will only get stereo, right?
    But now that VR is on the rise, it seems like virtual surround sound might possibly be baked into many if not all of the experiences. Can anyone verify this?
    In general, what is the state of virtual surround sound as it relates to its implementation in games and how would you know if a game supports virtual surround sound on its own?
  2. RRod
    3D games know where each "object" is in the world, so if they are so inclined they can undertake the task of virtualizing the sound of those objects in the game engine (or the audio engine it calls) itself. This involves calculating the incidence angle and distance of the sound to the game character and then transforming the audio so that it sounds in-front/behind/above/below/etc. These transforms are typically based on some "average" head. In these cases, the game puts out a *stereo* signal that has had the fancy stuff done to it already, and thus the sound card simply passes along the stereo signal to the headphones. OpenAL games can do this (I'm a Linux user so that's what I'm most familiar with).
    If the game/audio engine doesn't do this, then the sound card has to. There are a couple of possibilities:
    1) Feed the object information to the sound card so it can do the fancy virtualization itself.
    2) Have the game output 5.1/7.1 audio instead, and have the sound card take that and virtualize it into 2-channels
    A3D (back in the day) is an example of 1): an A3D-compatible sound card took a subset of the 3D info from the game and virtualized the audio for it. Dolby Headphone is an example of the 2): the game puts out 5.1/7.1 and the sound card uses the DH algorithm to virtualize it. I haven't used it, but I believe SBX Studio also does 2).
    Any of these solutions could be used for a VR headset, but generally you can do better by using the 3D objects themselves rather than going to 5.1/7.1 first.
    The tricky thing with games is knowing what "headphone" means in the audio output options. Sometimes it means an actual attempt at virtualization, and sometimes it's something simpler like a crossfeed or "stereo enhancer". Note that all games can of course lateralize sound just fine; that is, they can move the sound along an imaginary line running through your head. When I think "virtual surround" I think of the ability to sound front/back and up/down as well.
  3. mindbomb
    I'm not aware of any contemporary games that do. Afaik, you have to go back to the a3d sound card era to find games that actually used its processor to do headphone virtualization. Anyway, if it was actually in the game audio, then it would be captured by recording software, and thus you could go listen to twitch streams to see if there is stereo, stereo with a crossfeed, or virtual surround.
    I have heard this claim that games do have virtual surround sound, and people have even cited games that I know for a fact do not have it. I think that the implications of it are just so appealing that people imagine it to be the case. It would allow people to seamlessly use audiophile components, with community hype, as top tier gaming solutions. The other school of thought that arrives at this same conclusion is people overlooking the flaws of traditional stereo sound and upholding it as some type of paragon of spatial quality.
  4. Mad Lust Envy Contributor
    Nowadays there are some games with some limited form of headphone surround that doesn't come close to external processors.
  5. AAJoe
    As far as I know actually most games attempt it to some limited degree via the engine the game is built in. It's not quite the same as true surround sound. As @RRod said every game knows where a sound emanates in the engine. From that the developers can create 3D virtual sound for the location of the player.
    In Unity the audio effects sliders look like this:
    You can see things like direction, volume rolloff, etc. The X axis is distance from the sound in "unity meters" (which may or may not be actual meters!)
    So basically whether or not you get virtual surround sound comes down to how much time and effort the developers put into making these effects accurate. At the basic level you'll get left/right stereo and distant sounds being quieter. When you start adding in plugins that take into account "terrain" type you can get it much closer... 
  6. mindbomb
    I've been told Overwatch licensed a headphone dsp from dolby. So Overwatch is the first major game I'm aware of to have it.
  7. lukeman3000
    So it's 2017, a year after this post was made, and I still don't feel like I have any better of an understanding. Games don't seem to advertise whether or not they have built-in HRTF. The only one I know of that does, without question, is Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The only reason I know this is because of the fact that it's an actual option in the audio menu now.

    Beyond that, I have no clue which game may do this (or not) when you set the audio output option to "headphone". So I'm assuming that in about 99.9% of cases, I should be trying to output 5.1/7.1 and using my virtual surround sound software, such as SBX Pro Studio, correct?

    Why is this aspect of computer gaming lagging so far behind? I don't understand why there's not more readily available information out there about this stuff, why no one seems to be talking about it, why we don't see more games with built-in HRTF, etc. What is going on?
  8. Azurik
    Resident evil 7 has also its own VSS mix
  9. obobskivich
    There are a number of games that have built-in "headphone mode" or thereabouts, but what exactly goes on "inside" of that is not very well documented for many games (I think we're really left with trial and error). It may be doing something more akin to SBX/RSP/CMSS/etc where its taking 5.1/7.1 and downmixing it along with HRTF/EQ/etc or it may just be following a downmix coefficient matrix to provide a stereo output. The "stand-alone" headphone surround offerings are more consistent in what they're doing, as long as the game can provide a 5.1 or 7.1 output.

    As far as why this is "lagging" in game audio, my guess is two-fold:

    - A lot of game development these days relies on licenced/pre-built engines and middleware, so there can be pretty significant delays between "new technology is available" and "new technology is implemented in shipping product."

    - Game developers (and middleware developers) are well aware that surround-to-headphone simulacra have been available for the better part of fifteen years for most consumers (e.g. Dolby Headphone and CMSS are not "new" technologies at this point), both from audio hardware/drivers, as well as home theater devices (e.g. a lot of newer AV receivers/devices will do "headphone surround" too, usually via Dolby Headphone). So why re-invent the wheel when most of your target audience already have access to something that serves their needs?

    Overall I think its easier to just throw the game into 5.1/7.1 and let your third-party solution handle the downmix to headphones, especially because that lets things be more modular - if some newer, better simulacra comes out you aren't chained to whatever the game implements internally. You can just upgrade to that solution. Like if you want DTS Headphone:X - you can just buy a box that does that and have that, instead of going "oh no the game doesn't have it, I can't have it for my favorite title." You also know (more or less) what's going on there (and depending on the package you've chosen, there may be a reasonable degree of customization available to you) - you know that you have "headphone virtual surround" instead of "straight stereo." So to answer your question - yeah I'd just go with your surround simulacra of choice and not worry so much about what the individual game may have on offer, but certainly if there's something like Atmos built-in (which thus far seems to be a per-game feature, as opposed to a stand-alone DSP suite like Headphone:X or Dolby Headphone), it may be worth trying out just to satisfy curiosity.
  10. CooloutAC

    wow so there are some real people on these forums. although I rarely heard up and down sounds in games, I do feel front and back is good enough and I consider that 3d sound in headphones.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2018
  11. CooloutAC

    I agree. Well said. Alot of people just need to forget about marketing terms and whats said on paper, and just do trial and error. I also am satisfied with throwing the game into 5.1 if it has the option and letting my audio card drivers do its thing.

    I've been trying to tell people that 3d sound has been around since I can remember, especially in fps games.... its nothing new. Apparently people nowadays don't think it exists unless its advertised.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2018
  12. Azurik
    We can also add the new monster hunter to the list which got a 3D headphone Sound mode on board
  13. mindbomb
    People are incorrectly conflating two ideas here. A 3d audio engine is for things like changing the sounds with respect to player movement. Instead, we're talking about binaural rendering, which is about giving depth to headphone listening. There will have to be a specific option because it is specifically for headphone use, and you can't just assume everyone using your application is going to use headphones.

    It might be less confusing to think of how this works with movies. A bluray can have object based audio in the form of dolby atmos. That doesn't mean everyone automatically gets all that spatial quality. You will still need an hrtf and headphones or multiple speakers in a surround sound layout to actually experience it.
  14. Jearly410
    Sniper elite 4 has its own binaural option.

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