We’re here: the next phase in the evolution of gaming headsets has arrived! DOLBY ATMOS – in short – means surround sound headsets now give a fully immersive 3D experience. But that wouldn’t make much of a blog post, so I’m going to put that in the context of my own gaming history.
Dolby Atmos Surround Sound Gaming Headsets
The Evolution of Gaming Headsets: Mono – Stereo – Dolby Surround Sound – Dolby Atoms
Phase 1: Mono (before gaming headsets!)
So, I’m about ten years old and have a PC running Windows 3.11. It ran about three programs: Notepad, Minesweeper and Duke Nukem 2D. Whilst I did have a set of speakers attached to the computer, all sound was Mono. Whatever came out the speakers, came out of both sides in equal volume. All games were in 2D, so there was no need for anything better.
Phase 2: Stereo (speakers & early headsets)
First of all, I make no apology for the shocking resolution of the screenshot I’ve used here. That’s actually me in a 4 way dukematch and the score really is 10-0-0-0. I was playing under an alias as I couldn’t get matches on my main account… if only I could say such a thing in today’s gaming era (now I get owned by ten year olds).
In the mid to late 90s, whilst I was wasting far too much time playing Duke Nukem 3D, people started to use headsets when playing on-line. They weren’t called gaming headsets but did give an advantage over people who were using speakers for their sound output. Through nothing more than the proximity to the wearer’s ears, stereo headsets gave a better clarify of sound which was hugely important in games like Duke Nukem 3D, which was amongst the first to introduce the concept of ambient noise to on-line gaming. In one of the most popular maps, Hollywood Holocaust, you could practically pinpoint your opponents location and direction from the series of noises the game would produce [kids this is way before the Ninja Pro perk!]
Duke Nukem was a bit of an anomaly in terms of in game sounds. It was actually a 2D game made to look 3D (which meant you could do some crazy warps between different parts of the level just by jumping on sharp edges) so the ambient noises were made quite blatant get round the fact it wasn’t actually a 3D engine. In true 3D games, such as Quake, the introduction of stereo headsets meant you could pinpoint your enemies- were they on your left or were they on your right?
Either way, the introduction of stereo sound to gaming brought about a massive increase in the quality and diversity of speakers and headsets on offer.
Phase 3: Dolby Surround Sound Gaming Headsets
(screenshot taken from my Road to Double Nuke series with Sendzik… check out the video at the end to see how that panned out!)
Skip forwards to 2010 and I’m playing Call of Duty MW2 at a friends house. It was the first time I’d played a First Person Shooter in more than a decade and every time I ran round a corner, someone was ready to shoot me in the face. I didn’t think much of it as I was (understandably) rusty and I was suffering the mother of all New Year’s Day hangovers.
On the way back home I picked up a copy of MW2 and for the next week or so, I was still getting wrecked. Every time I’d run round a corner, BANG. I picked up a couple of on-line buddies and one of them asked which headset I was using….. err, the bluetooth earpiece from my phone.s handsfree kit. He laughed. He laughed a lot.
This is actually the event that lead me to register Gaming-Headsets.co.uk. When I learned everyone else was playing with a stereo or surround sound gaming headset I had to get one but it turned out they weren’t available in the UK. I ended up buying a Sharkoon V3 Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound headset and my gaming experience changed immediately. All of a sudden I was able to dominate games and not long after that, launched my YouTube channel!
Surround sound gave me the ability to pinpoint enemies in my vicinity (or anywhere on the map if they were running Commando instead of Ninja….) and I was no longer the cannon fodder running out in front of corner campers. Fact: a surround sound gaming headset will improve your k/d ratio in any FPS game!
Phase 4: Dolby Atmos has arrived!
In the early days, game sounds didn’t give any indication as to an enemies direction or proximity. The introduction of stereo headsets allowed players to get an indication of what direction sounds were coming from. When full surround sound gaming headsets hit the market, you were able to identify the location of a sound in 360 degrees. Both stereo and surround sound headsets give you information in a 2D plane but more and more, games take place over multiple levels. It’s all well and good knowing someone is behind you but are they above, below, or right behind you?
Taking Fortnite as an example, if you’re somewhere in that multi-level build how on earth do you determine how high up an enemy may be? Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound places speakers in 7 locations (Front Left, Centre, Front Right, Surround Left, Surround Right, Rear Left and Rear Right) which creates a 2 dimensional circle around you. The very nature of 2D means you don’t get any feedback from above (or below).
In technical terms, Dolby Atmos provides an extra layer of information over and above Dolby 7.1 Surround sound, meaning it is possible to give sound the element of height. In the context of a first person shooter, Dolby Almost means you can now position your enemies in a full 3D sphere; in-front, to the side, behind, above or below!
Video: visualising Dolby Atmos
MW2: One Man – Two Nukes (nothing to do with Dolby Atmos or Surround Sound Gaming Headsets)