The decision to listen through headphones instead of using speakers may seem a bit arbitrary for a games showcase, but Sony insists. In a blog post from Sid Shuman, senior director for Sony Interactive Entertainment content communications, we got the following recommendation:
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“It’s also best if you watch while wearing headphones, if you can,” he wrote. “There’s some cool audio work in the show, and it might be harder to appreciate if it’s pumped through your phone or laptop speakers.”
There are two possibilities by what he means here. One is rather prosaic, but the other may let us see (or, more accurately, hear) a key PS5 feature in action.
First, Sherman may simply be saying that the game audio on offer will be robust stuff, with a lot of nuance in the dialogue, sound effects and music. If that’s the case, then listening on phone or laptop speakers — even the best of which cap out somewhere around “tolerable” — isn’t going to give a good feel for how PS5 games will feel in action. Headphones will alleviate this issue, but so will a good pair of high-end speakers.
The other alternative is potentially more exciting, although I’m not positive how Sony might pull it off. One of the key features of the PS5, as revealed during Mark Cerny’s deep dive into hardware a few months back, is 3D audio.
This technology theoretically allows users to hear high-quality directional audio as though it were coming from a surround sound system rather than two earcups. If Sony is showing off 3D audio, then naturally you’d need a pair of headphones to hear it.
On the other hand, this may provide some logistical difficulties. Cerny himself explained that every person needs a somewhat different 3D audio profile, since how we interpret 3D audio is linked to the physical shape of our ears. This varies from person to person. Some people are extremely receptive to 3D audio setups, and some can’t hear a difference at all. It’s possible that the PS5 event could sound mind-blowing to a certain percentage of the audience, and just like any other presentation for the rest.
Whatever happens with the sound, don’t expect too much from the video, though. Sherman explained that the entire presentation is prerecorded, and will stream at 1080p and 30 frames per second. This was to make producing the show easier, particularly since the Sony team is working from home and faces some bandwidth restrictions. Hopefully, we’ll still be able to see what makes PS5 games so special, even when they’re broadcasting at lower graphical fidelity than we can currently get from a PS4 Pro.