13 Uses for 3D Sound

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 The yawn heard round the world that greeted the introduction of 3D TV at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was mainly due to a perceived dearth of compelling content. “It’s the software, stupid,” was the major refrain. But as it now turns out, the content problem could be well on its way to being solved. And we don't just mean ESPN and Discovery announcing 3D channels.

Within a month of CES and the continuing astounding success of Avatar, Hollywood studios had announced that so many 3D movies were in production that there wouldn’t be enough 3D-equipped theaters to accommodate them all. Suddenly, 3D movie makers were comparing their plight to incoming flights stacked up over JFK.

Given the delay between theatrical and Blu-ray Disc release, 2011 could well be the year that equipping your home theater with a 3D-capable TV and BD player will become compelling enough to bite the 3D bullet. And you might consider upgrading to a 7.1 channel or higher sound system, since being able reproduce more discrete audio channels will put you in the center of the sonic space.

For audio engineers, it’s time to start thinking about applying well-established surround-sound techniques as enhancements to the 3D visuals. Your audience is already accustomed to the sound of a moving vehicle panning across the left, center, and right speakers. They wouldn’t expect anything less in the case of a chopper as it lifts off from the White House lawn whirling from the front to rear speakers.  With 3D, the Z axis becomes more prominent as sound moves from deep inside the screen to an infinite position in front or above the screen.

With a little imagination it won’t be difficult to come up with ways to enhance the 3D visuals with 3D sound. To start thinking about uses, here’s a baker’s dozen:

  • Aerial dogfights
  • Heavy artillery while storming the beach
  • Scene bumpers (think the “dung-dung” of Law & Order but on a trajectory from front to rear)
  • Horizontal pumping (such as heavy machinery)
  • Bullets crisscrossing the room during a shootout between cops and robbers.
  • A rabid Stephen Colbert leaning into the camera (then leaning back out)
  • A round-the-world maneuver at a whistling yo-yo competition
  • Elliptical-track speed-car racing
  • Crack of the bat and whoosh of the ball sailing out of the park (effects sweeteners added in real time); the crowd goes wild! People are pounding their feet behind you.
  • Floating between members of a symphony orchestra or band so that the audience is in earshot of a particular section or instrument
  • Being buried by an avalanche
  • Being carted off in a siren-emitting paddy wagon
  • Being pulled out of a strait jacket to the sound of Velcro straps undone

Well. You get the picture. Meanwhile, 3D TVs have already started to arrive from Samsung, with more expected from Sony and Panasonic.