Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself toing and froing as to whether I can justify buying a PS5 (although it would be a lot easier if Sony could announce the bloody price already).
I’ve openly stated why I hate the design of the PS5, and I’m not really swayed by some of Sony’s franchises like others seem to be. The Xbox Series X also beats Sony’s machine comfortably on paper when it comes to specs, and I’m already heavily invested in the Xbox ecosystem such as Xbox Game Pass.
And yet, I can’t stop thinking about one PS5 feature that, frustratingly, can’t be judged unless it’s experienced first hand: and that’s 3D audio. I’m cautiously optimistic about its potential, and believe it might just give me that “wow” factor I’m searching for with the next-generation consoles.
You see, for decades, I grossly underestimated how important great sound design can be in video games. I used to think that my TV speakers were more than adequate when gaming, and it wasn’t until I started playing with headphones regularly that I opened my eardrums to a whole new world.
Wearing a set of quality over-ear headphones felt like a revelation at first. Whether it was the thrill of feeling explosions that felt like they reverberated through my skull, or the fidelity to hear an enemy’s footsteps from over 100 yards away, I quickly developed an unhealthy obsession with pursuing crystal clear audio.
Great sound matters to me, but after sampling various spatial surround sound technologies such as Dolby Atmos and DTS Headphone: X, I’ve found that both leave a lot to be desired. They’ve never lived up to the promise of being able to hear objects distinctly from above and below, which would honestly be a game-changer for so many titles.
Tempest my expectations
The PS5’s ‘Tempest 3D Audio Engine’, though, could finally deliver. When PlayStation’s chief architect Mark Cerny took the stage to ramble on about the PS5’s technical specs, I found his discussion on audio to be the most intriguing. He mentioned that the proprietary new technology uses custom-built hardware and software algorithms to make in-game audio sound more realistic and true to life, which is exactly what I want to hear (literally).
Using a Head-related Transfer Function (HRTF), the technology is fairly similar to Dolby Atmos, although it can supposedly pick up more objects in 3D space. Sony also acknowledged that 3D audio isn’t the same for everyone due to the shape of our ears. Cerny then suggested that PlayStation 5 owners could send Sony a picture of their lug holes, to which a HRTF preset could be assigned.
That might sound like a ridiculous idea (and it probably is) but I’m pleased Sony is committed to taking audio to the next level, as opposed to merely focusing on graphics. Cerny said that he wants everyone to experience this level of realism that 3D audio can provide, and I’m certainly interested.
PS5 developers seem to be excited, too, but I do have my reservations. This isn’t the first time Sony has promised groundbreaking 3D audio, after all.
The Sony Platinum Wireless Headset for PS4 is armed with a similar yet obviously more limited version of the tech. And while it does an admirable job of expanding the sound stage, it suffers with how objects are picked up in the world. They either sound far too close to the listener, or in a totally different location than you’d expect. Not ideal, then, if you’re trying to pinpoint a zombie in Days Gone or the machined beasts in Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Nevertheless, I’m glad that after decades of chasing higher resolutions and photo-realistic graphics, audio might finally be getting the next-gen upgrades it deserves. And honestly, I’m all ears, Sony.