Dolby bringing 3D voice chat to consoles, Mac

The audio specialist is bringing its 3D Axon technology to video game consoles as well as the Mac to enable a bunch of neat new voice chat tricks for console games.

Dolby Laboratories on Thursday announced its plans to bring its Axon 3D voice chat technology from the PC over to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the Mac.

The software development kit (SDK) will be made available to all game developers in April, though it's already been in beta testing with a handful of developers, which Dolby would not disclose.

The technology, which has been available to PC game makers for the past year, adds three-dimensional location to a game's voice chat channel. This gives gamers a sense of where other players are talking from when heard through a pair of headphones, or a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker setup.

In a phone call with CNET earlier this week, Matt Tullis, who is Dolby's director of marketing, said Axon will be able to be "retrofitted" into older games through a software update, though he expects most developers to simply build it into their upcoming titles. The benefits of doing so go beyond the 3D sound, and include things like volume normalization, echo reduction, and background noise reduction. The technology can also take into account things like players being behind walls, or closed doors--game elements beyond distance that can cut out sound.

One thing console developers can do now that they can't do on the PC, Tullis says, is take advantage of mixed audio setups, in which users have a surround sound setup and a stereo headset. On consoles like the Xbox 360 and the PS3, this can be a common occurrence. Developers will be able to use Axon to program things like walkie-talkies into their voice chat systems so as to allow players to experience chatting to someone from far away as if they were using a radio in-game.

As for the inclusion of Mac, Tullis acknowledged that the Mac may not be close to the games powerhouses that the PC and home consoles are, but that it is a growing market. "You definitely have some major games that support the Mac," Tullis said. "[Valve's] Steam just announced they're coming to the Mac. And 5 percent of World of Warcraft users are on Mac too.'"

The one home console that's not getting Axon support in Dolby's console SDK is Nintendo's Wii. The reason for this is simple, as the console does not even have Dolby Digital, the sound technology that first appeared in the last generation of consoles, with the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Instead, the Wii uses Dolby's Pro-Logic II technology, which takes stereo and samples it into surround sound. There's also the fact that only eight Nintendo Wii titles use voice chat.

Dolby did not say when it expects to see the first batch of Axon-ready console games on the market, but given its pre-existence on the PC, and beta testing with some developers before this announcement, it seems reasonable to expect we could see the first crop of titles as early as the holidays.

 

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