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New Apple patent imagines virtual speakers that can simulate sound from anywhere in the room

Apple has just been granted a patent — concerning virtual positioning of audio — that could eventually lay the groundwork for new, more immersive audio applications. It builds on a previous patent Apple filed last month that enabled users to hear where people are physically located in a room through special headphone tech. Today’s patent does exactly the same thing, but with built-in MacBook speakers.

According to 9to5Mac, it’s a virtual acoustic system that works by using crosstalk canceling, which makes users feel like sound is coming from a different place than loudspeakers. (Crosstalk, here, refers to the overlapping sound waves that the ears receive from the left and right channels of a speaker.) The effect, as reported by Patently Apple, is to allow audio signals to contain “spatial cues” that let a sound be positioned virtually in a space. The patent was originally filed in 2018, according to Patently Apple.

That can be used to enhance a feeling of presence — say, for example, while listening to a sports broadcast. While the business uses of the patent are fairly evident (think better conference calls), there are entertainment applications to consider: the technology could be applied to games and television shows, for example, to make them feel more immersive. Which means you might be watching even more television on your computer one day.

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