Immersive audio takes to the skies
Not long ago we announced that we’re bringing, for the first time ever, an immersive 360° sound experience to inflight entertainment via a partnership with Virgin America.
Using any pair of headphones, travelers are now experiencing authentic ‘surround sound’ with a growing selection of mainstream hollywood content, giving them the exciting feeling that the action is happening all around them.
Since that initial announcement, we’ve been hard at work creating custom software to automate the encoding process. Without it, we’ve had to do the encoding ourselves, which is fine if you’re doing a targeted launch, but not if you want to work at scale.
Our partner in this exciting new adventure is Spafax, a leading media agency that helps bring movies, TV shows and other fun content to air travelers. We’re licensing our 3D audio encoding software to Spafax as part of an exclusive deal for the travel industry.
The Spafax partnership was announced back in August, with Virgin Atlantic as the first of their partner carriers to use our technology. Since then, we’ve launched on Delta, with many more carriers in the pipeline.
It’s been a long road to this moment, and we’ve learned a great deal along the way:
1) In-flight audio is ripe for disruption. It’s a headphone-dominated environment that’s begging for an upgrade to the latest and greatest immersive audio technology.
2) As airlines look for amenities that make the flying experience more enjoyable while being cost effective, the winning technology needs to work with existing IFE hardware.
3) To anticipate the high-volume user environment of commercial air travel, we spent over a year testing the media encoding technology, both on the ground and in-air to ensure that we’re bringing the best listening experience at all compression levels and in all environments, especially in the presence of noise.
4) We’ve also done significant testing to make sure the experience translates across all headphones. Flyers can plug-in their own headphones, from earbuds to noise cancelers, and get enhanced audio that surrounds them with sound.
5) Refining the process wasn’t as easy as anticipated. We had to work closely with the content studios to get the existing multichannel audio for the content of interest. We then used the multichannel content to encode the headphone audio, placing many “virtual” speakers around the listener. So using any pair of headphones, passengers will hear sounds moving from side to side, from front to back, and up and down.
The next 6-12 months is going to be exciting. In addition to refining our encoding software, we’re also partnering with various content creators and technology providers to create rich media experiences using virtual and augmented reality, two rapidly growing markets that are poised for IFE adoption.
We’re shooting for a time when all in-flight audio is enhanced with our technology. Whether it’s TV, movies, music, concerts, VR environments, or audio books, we want any media that is experienced via headphones to be experienced in the most engaging way possible. With any luck, we’ll be getting there soon.