The lights are on
Albert Penello, Microsoft director of product planning for the Xbox One, recently commented on the upcoming audio adapter. Microsoft has, so far, only discussed stereo output through the controller, but increased functionality for surround sound may be coming.
Penello explains that the Xbox One team opted for stereo over virtual surround when planning for the upcoming headset and adapter. “For now, the adapter transmits only stereo audio,” he writes. “We are discussing some sort of virtual surround, but I think the high quality Stereo sound (the Bass on our headset is amazing), plus great chat, and the adapter for $80 is a pretty great product.” (Note: the official Xbox One stereo headset with adapter will retail for $80. The standalone adapter will be sold for $25.)
He also shares some thoughts about virtual surround sound (audio processed to simulate directional speakers with only a single driver in each ear). “Keep in mind, when you're dealing with only two speakers, and we chose higher quality stereo vs a virtual surround, since the advantage of surround isn't obvious until you get into very high-end discreet speaker headphones,” Penello writes.
When queried specifically about digital sound processing, Penello makes it clear that it could be added later. “Yes, its possible. Its a [software] feature not a limitation of the [hardware],” he writes. Penello also says that controllers won’t timeout and turn off when watching television or movies through the controller’s stereo output. Controllers will require a firmware update to take advantage of the upcoming headset and adapter.
We reached out to Microsoft for comment, which was unable to confirm digital processing as a planned update. “We’re always listening to what our customers want, and yes, we have many updates in the pipeline to continue to evolve our audio capabilities,” a representative told us via email. “We’ll have more details to share in the future.”
Our TakeI disagree with Penello’s assertion about virtual surround sound. I have found through testing of dozens of headsets that there is a distinct difference between stereo and simulated surround sound, especially in the case of multiplayer shooters. Hearing footsteps behind me in a virtual environment matters.
I am thrilled to know that that digital sound processing could come later via the controller. I am still waiting for the Xbox One to support Dolby Digital output, though. That omission is glaring and is hopefully high on the list for patching.