We spoke to Kristian Hentschel and Jon Francombe at BBC R&D to find out more...
Can you sum up the project?
This project is all about bringing 'spatial audio' experiences into the home. Here in the BBC R&D lab, we have a room with 34 high quality loudspeakers in carefully controlled positions. We can use it to create excellent immersive 3D audio experiences, like transporting the listener to a front row seat in the Royal Albert Hall or into the stadium for the FA Cup Final. But we want to let a wider audience experience great spatial audio in their living rooms, not just in specially designed labs.
The S3A project team (researchers from the Universities of Surrey, Salford, Southampton, and BBC R&D) have been working on a way of using speakers in devices that people already have at home—mobile phones, tablets, and laptops—so that we can unlock immersive audio experiences for many more listeners. It’s like a surround sound system, but without the hassle of cables and expensive loudspeakers.
We’re testing this idea with a new science-fiction drama—The Vostok-K Incident. It’s 13 minutes long and was created specifically to take advantage of extra connected devices to tell a story. You can listen to the piece just like a normal audio drama, but the experience gets better as you connect more extra devices, unlocking immersive spatial aspects as well as extra hidden content.
How was it made?
A large interdisciplinary team was involved, including a writer, sound designers, research scientists, and developers. Writer Ed Sellek was asked to consider how the story could be enhanced by sending sounds to connected speakers. Then we worked with Manchester-based production company Naked Productions to record and mix the content using a novel format that is flexible enough to adapt to whatever devices are connected in the home. Finally, we had to solve technical challenges related to delivering the content and synchronising the connected devices, and put it all together with a user-friendly interface.
What happens next?
The process we went through to create The Vostok-K Incident has helped us to put tools and workflows in place for creating this type of experience, which should let us make new productions a lot more easily. Next, we need to determine what type of experiences we could create with this technology, and how it might be used by listeners at home. We’re really interested to find out how this is received by the public, so please let us know what you think by rating on Taster.