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Ctrl+Alt+Del: Surround sound may soon be possible on laptops

OPINION: Laptops are a great substitute for your TV, especially now we’re seeing so many models with OLED and Mini LED displays. 

I’ve found myself watching more and more films and TV shows on my laptop in 2023, whether it be the Succession finale in a hotel room when travelling abroad, or the latest Marvel blockbuster from the comfort of my bed when I’m too lazy to move into the living room. 

Whenever I do use a laptop to stream video, the one thing I miss the most from my TV set-up is the surround sound provided by my Sonos speakers. The 3D sound created by a surround system improves the immersion to such an extent that I really do feel it’s almost just as important as the picture quality for my home cinema experience. 

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I’ve never really had any hopes that a laptop could ever provide a similar experience, at least without use of headphones. Since laptops are designed to be portable, setting one up with surround sound speakers is absurdly impractical. Sure, you could create your own surround system set-up in your office to plug into whenever you fancy, but that’s not going to help when you fancy watching a movie anywhere else. 

As a result, I’ve simply accepted that this is just a limitation of a laptop for streaming video, but now I’m starting to change my mind following a meeting with Marcos Simon, the co-founder of a company called Audioscenic, at Computex 2023 in Taipei.

Audioscenic is a six-year old company that specialises in 3D audio. It doesn’t create its own hardware, but instead develops patent-protected software to enable any standard speaker to be capable of delivering full 360 sound perception. However, a company needs to licence the technology from Audioscenic in order to give their device the 3D audio upgrade. 

One of the most notable devices to make use of Audioscenic’s technology so far is the Razer Leviathan V2 Pro. On the surface, this just looks like a normal soundbar and subwoofer combo for your desktop, and yet it’s capable of providing a 3D audio experience similar to what a proper surround system is capable of. 

Remarkably, the Leviathan V2 Pro does not need any additional speakers dotted around your room in order to create this effect. Instead, it uses the integrated infrared camera and AI-powered software to track the position of your head and then Audioscenic’s beamforming technology can then make a personal, virtual soundstage to create the 3D sound effect. 

Razer Leviathan V2 Pro
Razer Leviathan V2 Pro

You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds like a fantasy concept, but after demoing the speaker at CES 2023 earlier this year, I can confirm that the Razer Leviathan V2 Pro really is capable of creating the illusion that you’re listening to a proper surround sound set-up. 

Audioscenic’s co-founder, Marcos Simon, tells me that the company is now hoping to expand its technology into laptops. Given the high price of the Leviathan V2 Pro, I assumed you’d need to fit a lot of expensive technology into a laptop in order to do so, but that apparently is not the case. 

The only hardware that a laptop requires is a webcam (even a 720p resolution is fine) and speakers, although Audioscenic did say that a laptop will ideally need high quality speakers in order to get the best experience from the 3D audio effect, but it isn’t compulsory. 

This means that the vast majority of laptops on the market already make the cut, so they only need to install Audioscenic’s software in order to start creating immersive 3D audio. Audioscenic even proved this by installing its software onto Razer and Acer laptop prototypes at a Computex demo. It’s worth pointing out that neither Razer or Acer have agreed to use Audioscenic’s technology for consumer laptops as of yet – these were purely just for demo purposes. 

Audioscenic software on a Razer laptop prototype
Audioscenic software on a Razer laptop prototype

I was able to go hands-on with the Razer Blade prototype at Computex, and I was really impressed by the 3D audio. It felt like I was sitting in a cinema, with the perception of audio reaching my ears from multiple directions. This was especially impressive when playing games, as I could determine the directions of enemy footsteps and gunfire without the need to don a headset. 

There’s a great deal of supported content too. The vast majority of games are compatible, as well as anything on the likes of Netflix and Disney Plus with a ‘spatial audio’ icon. Stereo sound is also supported for music streaming services such as Spotify, allowing me to hear music from both the left and right side of my head rather than just in front.

The only obstacle Audioscenic really faces is getting laptop manufacturers to agree to a licence for the technology. Doing so would no doubt increase the cost of a laptop, so it’s likely that manufacturers are worried whether the technology will appeal to customers enough to make the inflated cost worthwhile. 

From the short time I’ve spent with Audioscenic’s 3D audio however, I’m really excited about its potential. I can see it being a great feature for laptops designed primarily for gaming or streaming video, or even for creator-focused laptops for developing video/audio for surround sound systems. Hopefully there’s at least one laptop company willing to take a leap of faith, as I’d love to reap the benefits of surround sound the next time I’m stuck in a hotel watching a movie.

Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon. 


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