PS5 3D Audio: What Is PlayStation 5's Tempest Engine?
Image: GameRoom

What is 3D audio on PS5? How will 3D audio affect PlayStation 5 games, and what is the Tempest Engine powering the technology? You may have already read about some of the technical capabilities of Sony's next-gen console, and one term that's being thrown around is 3D audio. Mark Cerny, who's leading development on PS5, was disappointed at the lack of audio innovation with current gen machines, and aims to fix that by including the technical grunt to support 3D audio on a system level. But what does 3D audio mean? As part of our PS5 guide, we're going to go through what we know about 3D audio, and what it means for PS5.

PS5 3D Audio: What Is It?

In simple terms, 3D audio is a technique that makes sounds appear to be coming from all around you, relative to where you are in the scene. As a basic example, if you're in a room with a telephone in the far right-hand corner, and it starts ringing, 3D audio means the ring will sound like it's coming from the far right-hand corner from the player's perspective. The Tempest Engine is the technology powering this feature.

This is different to the usual audio tricks developers use. Most games will use a system of increasing the volume on an effect as you get closer, and a lot of titles support surround sound, which provides a more realistic soundscape, but 3D audio is a step further. It's hard to explain, but the technology provides depth to sound, tricking your brain into thinking sounds are coming from a specific spot in 3D space.

To give you a better idea of how 3D audio works, strap on a pair of headphones and listen to this:

There are plenty of other examples of 3D audio on YouTube, too.

PS5 3D Audio: How Does It Improve Games?

Much like with PlayStation VR, the PS5 will be capable of utilising 3D audio in its games to create truly three-dimensional soundscapes. The technology will allow you to be even more immersed in a game's world than before, because noises and effects will be far more realistic in terms of where they come from. Take Skyrim as an example: if you were to enter a pub, you'd hear chatter among its patrons on one side, a fire crackling away on the other, and further inside, a bard playing folk music. The difference with 3D audio is that you'll feel as if you're there, because all these effects will sound like they're coming from the appropriate places in 3D space.

As well as dramatically enhancing immersion, 3D audio may be able to improve games in less obvious ways. Think about it in terms of competitive shooters; if someone is in a room on the floor above you, you'll be able to hear their footsteps as they cross the room above your head. Another example could be that you need to listen out for audio cues in a horror game to identify where the threats are coming from.

According to Mark Cerny, while headphones will be the optimal way to experience 3D audio, PS5 will be capable of delivering the technology through your regular setup -- even just your TV speakers.

PS5 3D Audio: What Is the Tempest Engine?

The Tempest Engine is effectively the hardware chip inside the PS5 which makes all of this fancy 3D audio technology possible. As explained by Digital Foundry, the "Tempest Engine is effectively a re-engineered AMD GPU compute unit, stripped of its caches and relying solely on DMA transfers".

Fascinatingly, to accurately create 3D audio, Sony needs access to data called the Head-related Transfer Function, which is unique to every person based on their ear and head shape. There'll be at least five profiles available at launch based on over 100 people, and you'll be able to configure this based on your personal optimum settings. But the manufacturer wants to find a way to perfectly personalise this data for every user, and this may involve you eventually taking and uploading photos of your ears.

PS5 3D Audio: Do You Need New Headphones?

Sony is designing PS5’s 3D audio around standard headphones for now, so you’ll be able to take advantage of the feature with hardware you already own. However, it intends to eventually optimise this for television speakers, sound bars, and surround sound systems. In short, it’ll work with whatever audio technology you already own, although the Pulse 3D Wireless Headset will be optimised for use with 3D audio.

Do you like the sound of 3D audio on PS5? Listen up in the comments below, and check out our PS5 guide for much more information.