In early January, we discovered that Valve had acquired a 3D audio company called Impulsonic. Valve didn’t reveal the news, but Impulsonic’s website indicated that Valve swallowed up the company’s assets and employees.
Impulsonic made a physics-based binaural 3D audio utility called Phonon 3D that enhances 3D audio experiences to create believable sound profiles for virtual environments. 3D audio technology is a big deal for virtual reality experience and games, so it was no surprise that Valve saw value in Impulsonic’s technology.
Impulsonic’s employees transitioned to Valve’s headquarters in January and they didn’t waste time getting to work. The team created the Steam Audio SDK, which Valve described as the next generation of Impulsonic’s Phonon special audio tools adapted specifically for virtual reality applications.
Valve wants to give VR developers every opportunity to build amazing content with as little risk as possible. Valve already offers an open-source version of its VR hardware driver set called OpenVR, and the company licenses its Lighthouse positional tracking technology at no cost to developers. (Now the training material is free, too). The Steam Audio SDK is another royalty-free component of Valve’s growing virtual reality development ecosystem.
"Valve is always trying to advance what the very best games and entertainment can offer," said Anish Chandak of Valve. "Steam Audio is a feature-rich spatial audio solution available to all developers, for use wherever and however they want to use it."
The initial version of the Steam Audio SDK has native support for the Unity engine, but if you’re using any other engine, you must write code to integrate the software. Valve included a C API so that you can integrate Steam Audio into other game engines and middleware.
A plugin for Unreal Engine isn’t far behind the Unity plugin, though. Epic Games plans to demonstrate Steam Audio in Unreal Engine at GDC in March.
"As a new plugin for the new Unreal Audio Engine, Steam Audio fundamentally extends its capabilities and provides a multi-platform solution to game audio developers who want to create realistic and high-quality sound propagation, reverberation modeling, and binaural spatialization for their games," said Aaron McLeran, audio programmer at Epic Games.