Until now, most of the buzz around the PS5 and Xbox Series X has centred on the incredible 8K graphics and silky-smooth framerate both consoles are set to bring to our front rooms. However, graphics are only one part of the package: for a true immersive experience, next-gen consoles need next-gen sound.
According to a Wired (opens in new tab) interview conducted last year, PS5 lead Mark Cerny is keen to make big strides in audio, having been disappointed with the lack of innovation in the area. The PS5 will be packing 3D audio, which will create sounds relative to where your character is in the scene.
If you're being shot at from the right, the PS5 will instruct your speakers to fire sound so that you perceive it as coming from the right direction. Reportedly, no external surround-sound system is needed for this - it can be all done with dedicated audio chips, much like graphics cards.
However, Xbox Series X looks like it'll bring serious tech to bear on the audio world in an attempt to keep pace with the PS5. At this year's Game Developer Conference (opens in new tab) in San Francisco, Microsoft has a presentation lined up titled "Building Audio Gateways Into Immersive Worlds With Spatial Sound". The description reads as follows:
"Learn from the audio designers of Borderlands 3 and Gears of War 5 around how a collaboration between Microsoft, Dolby, and our middleware partners kicked off a revolution with spatial sound that turns any pair of headphones into a multi-dimensional gateway to another world.
"Attendees will dive deep into the audio design pipeline (Project Acoustics) and the relationship to dedicated hardware-acceleration on newer generation Xbox consoles."
It certainly sounds like next-generation Xboxes are set to support the "spacial sound" mentioned in the description. Terms like "multi-dimensional" being thrown around leads us to believe Microsoft and Dolby will be bringing something similar to the PS5's 3D audio experience to the Xbox Series X, with sound projected in a way to create the illusion of direction.
With most of the excitement over the consoles' graphical capabilities, it's comforting to know both PS5 and Xbox Series X are stepping up their audio games. To achieve a directional sound without the need to spend hundreds of dollars on a surround-sound system would be a feather in the cap for both Sony and Microsoft, and could go a long way to improving users' sensory experiences.
People forget games aren't just a visual medium: as controllers become more intuitive and sound improves across generations, it's as much about touch and hearing as it is about sight. it might not be long before you log on to Halo 7 on the Xbox Series Y (or Series Z) and it puffs out a whiff of cordite as the Covenant's plasma bombs detonate in your front room. Smells like victory.