The PlayStation 5's Tempest 3D audio engine is so revolutionary that Sony may ask you to send a photo of your ears for added realism
Not a lot of hardware prowess is invested in audio realism. In fact, the PS4 dedicated just about half a Jaguar core for 7.1 audio paling in comparison to the PS3, which had dedicated synergistic processing units (SPUs) for the job. To address this, Sony has developed the Tempest 3D audio engine that can process audio from hundreds of in-game sound sources to offer an elevated level of realism without the need for expensive audio gear.
The PlayStation 5's Tempest Engine looks to offer an enhanced level of immersion to make you feel right in the middle of the action by simulating audio around you. This also includes the ability to precisely track where objects are located within the scene. The interesting aspect about this simulation is that it takes into account the shape of your ears and also the size and shape of your head.
Positional audio tracking using head related transfer function (HRTF) is not new to PC gamers, though. Solutions from Creative and Nahimic come to mind with Creative's SXFI also having a similar feature of creating a sound profile based on ear shape. However, Sony takes things a bit higher with the PS5's Tempest Engine.
HRTF is a computationally-intensive calculation so Sony has dedicated a GPU compute unit of sorts without caches that is equivalent in power and bandwidth to a complete 8-core Jaguar CPU in the PlayStation 4. The best part is that you need not invest in additional audio equipment to savor these benefits. Cerny said that the PS5's Tempest Engine is made to deliver great sound from built-in TV speakers, soundbars, and headphones.
That being said, HRTF modeling has to be done on an individual level for true realism. While Sony has modeled the system around 100 people and even offers five presets for launch, the company wants to up the ante and offer an even more personalized immersive experience — and for that, you'll have to send them a picture of your head or ear.
This is still ongoing research, though. Cerny uses a lot of "may be" to suggest all possible ways this can be accomplished in the coming years. These include sending Sony a photo of your ear, which then is analyzed by a neural network to suggest the closest matching HRTF profile, a video of your ears and head to create a 3D model and synthesize a personalized HRTF for you, or subtly changing HRTF as you play and pick a profile that enables you to score the highest in the game.
Certainly, these possibilities of HRTF modeling aren't for launch, and it will be some years before well, you can actually send them photos of your ears. What is certain is that Sony is focusing a lot more on audio realism in ways that were never explored before.
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