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Think Different - Sound Better
June 1st

Gary: Oh, cripes! What have you done to the cave, man?!

Randy: I'm working on my next big project. TPSSD.

Gary: (whispering) Okay, why are we being so quiet?

Randy: No, not "Shhhhh." TPSSD: True Positional Sound Seating Device.

Since the word is out that Apple is finally gearing up the next line of Macs with new exceptional sound technologies, I'm working on a system of delivering true 3D positional sound from just two speakers.

Gary: Nice trick, but easier said than done. The human brain is pretty damn good at judging sound depth perception. A person can close their eyes and tell where someone is talking to them from by the delay and echo of their voice as that person moves around the room. As the voice moves around to the right of the person, the brain can tell the directional shift by the difference in delay between their left and right ears.

The human perception of depth of sound can also tell a person how big a room is without even seeing it. Resonance and timber combined with delay and echo tell the listener how large or small a room is by the echo, and what kind of material the room is made of by the timber and pitch of the resonant sound bounced back to the listener's ears. When you stand in a metal chamber, the resonant sound is tinny and echoed, whereas in a normal household room the sound returned to your ears is easier on the ears and has very little echo because all the furniture absorbs the sound.

Randy: Exactly. This is why sound is so important to gaming. We have said it before and we'll say it again.

All in unison: Sound is fully half the gaming experience!

Gary: Very good, readers.

Randy: Sound paints the scene for the mind in a far more subconscious way than visual input ever can. Sound tells the player whether they're outside or in an underground cave, beside water or on top of a mountain. True 3D sound tells the player if the water is on their left or right, if the door that is opening is above them or below them, or if a freaky alien is coming up behind or in front of them.

Gary: The trouble is most computers have only two speakers, both in front of the player. This makes it hard to get a sound to realistically come from behind the player's head. True surround needs five speakers. Two in front of the player two behind the player and one directly in front of the gamer for the center channel. While this setup is ideal for optimal sound, there just aren't many gamers who have a full five-speaker compliment for complete surround sound.

Randy: That's where my idea comes in. I have taken the concept of speakers all around the player and reversed it. All you need is two speakers in a stationary position and my Sit-Down-Surround chair.

I attached this comfy 80's style leather office chair to a washing machine motor. And then came up with a little algorithm to tell the motor when and where a sound should come from in a game and the chair spins the player into the right position so the speakers can be in the right position.

Gary: For one second that almost sounded sane. True, the sound would come from the right direction but the player would get tossed around like a drumstick in a bag of Shake and Bake.

Randy: That's where the wetsuit comes in.

Gary: I'm leaving.

Randy: No, wait. I sewed this wetsuit to the chair so you can zip yourself up and stay seated while the chair moves.

Gary: I'm still leaving, but before you test it out and need to get fitted for yet another body cast, let me tell the readers about another option for 3D positional that Apple has been working on for the next generation of Macintosh computers due out later this year.

Randy: Once again, it's nice to see Steve and the kids at the mother ship listen to our feedback and act upon it so swiftly. It seems like only a few months ago we were lamenting how PC gamers had a plethora of third party 3D sound cards to choose from while the Mac seemed to be stuck a few years back in the sound department.

Gary: Well, according to a January 19th press release from Apple, they have licensed four technologies from Spatializer Audio Laboratories that will be integrated into the iMac, PowerBook and Power Mac line-up later this year.

The four technologies that were licensed by Apple are called 3-D Stereo, N-2-2, enCompass and Vi B.E.

Randy: Give everyone a quick wrap up, so we can try out the chair.

Gary: We? Forget it, man. I am not getting into that thing.

Randy: Alright, I'll strap myself in. Just explain.

Gary: The simplest is Vi B.E. It is a bass enhancer, similar to what a lot of portable stereos have built-in. Look for this in upcoming iMacs, as a way to get the sound of a subwoofer while retaining the all-in-one simplicity of iMac, and keep costs down.

3-D Stereo aims to take standard stereo and simulate a surround effect. Our old Sony receiver has a version of this technology built-in, and it generally creates an effect that adds a lot of reverb to whatever source you are listening to, and does fill the room with sound, but it has no directional capability at all.

Randy: Okay, I am in the chair.

Gary: Looks real comfortable.

Randy: Well, maybe it is! The next technology coming soon to a Mac near you is N-2-2. N-2-2 takes Dolby 5.1 encoded sound and creates the same sonic effect as Dolby 5.1 does. What's so great about that you ask? Well, Dolby 5.1 requires six speakers - two front stereo speakers, two rear stereo speakers, a center channel, and a subwoofer. N-2-2 does this with two speakers. The downside is that you must be in a "sweet spot" for this effect to work. Spatializer has actually mapped the human head in ongoing efforts to maximize the sweet spot, and claims to have significant leaps in this area.

Gary: We can't wait to try it!

Finally, there is enCompass, which is the most interesting technology for gamers. It can localize sounds in a complete 3D space. This means that sounds will be able to come at you from the front, behind, left and right, and even from above or below you. Can you imagine the immersive experience when you will be able to tell where an opponent is by the sound of their footsteps?

It just keeps getting better and better. Apple is serious about gaming, and this is just another step in the right direction.

Okay, Randy, fire up the Deathchair, I mean the Soundchair.

Randy: Okay, I'll just launch Unreal and step into this huge cavern...

Gary: Whoa! Look at that thing go! Holy crap!

Let me unplug that thing. Well, I will say that the bone snapping sounds were very realistic.

(evil glare from the wetsuit)

Gary: Okay, I'll call 911. That was a pretty good idea, adding it to our speed dial.

When they get you out, do you think we can use that thing to shake up some margaritas? I really could use a drink. I mean after we change the wetsuit, of course.

(evil glare from the wetsuit)

Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.

The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.

You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .

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