Ray traced audio acceleration is the latest gimmick on Microsoft's Xbox Series X console
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A few days ago, Microsoft unveiled some more key technical specs for the upcoming Xbox Series X console so we now know that there will be hardware-level ray trace acceleration. An earlier leak specified that the next gen console will support spatial audio acceleration, as well, and director of Xbox program management Jason Ronald essentially confirmed this in a recent podcast where he mentioned that the spatial audio features will be handled by the ray tracing accelerator:
With the introduction of hardware accelerated ray tracing with the Xbox series X, we’re actually able to enable a whole new set of scenarios, whether that’s more realistic lighting, better reflections, we can even use it for things like spatial audio and have ray traced audio.
Wait, so they are applying the wave-particle duality to audio effects now, trying to prove that quantum sound is a thing? Most likely not. We are not entirely certain of what this would entail, but we suspect it is just gimmicky marketing babble. The 3D spatial sound feature on the Xbox Series X console will probably be similar to ray tracing as far as 3D positioning goes. This could mean that the sound processing will happen dynamically and will be correlated to other sounds and objects in a 3D environment, just like ray tracing improves lighting, shadows and reflections on an object as related to everything else in the environment.
While this could at first seem more lifelike and realistic, it might not be more than just another software layer similar to Dolby’s standards. Microsoft may very well claim that the console is doing hardware spatial audio processing, but we, as end-users will not be able to really tell the difference without high-end speaker systems or headphones. The average user is clearly not the target of this feature. Since the sound-related experience is more about how our brain decodes sound frequencies, no mainstream headphones or speakers that can barely deliver mids and clearly separated instruments will actually benefit from this ray traced sound acceleration. The software layer can at best emulate, but will never reproduce lifelike sounds.