With the growing industry of Virtual Reality, there are growing efforts to develop the audio counterpart of the stereoscopic visual content. Why is this important and is there any market evidence that consumer are interested in this type of audio?
I did contract work for a major AR/VR chip-maker for about a year and I can definitely tell you that 3D audio is mission-critical for all of the major players in that industry. The reason being is that they see AR/VR as containing three critical factors: incredible visuals, intuitive sensing, AND life-like audio. Many tend to think that VR is all graphical, but the major developers understand that if you lose audio (or sensing) then you lose total immersion. That's the direction AR/VR is heading.
Is relevant because VR is mainly an individual abstracting experience. If the person is already seeing everything through the VR device, thus isolating themselves from the outside world, the hearing sense should be in sync with the VR experience, 3D sound will only enhance it and making it more real, which is the main objective.
Audio for VR is (or should be) 3D because of the cues it gives you. As you should know the audio we experience in real life has something called a HRTF (Head-related transfer function). When audio is sent to the brain as electrical signals, and the audio does not fit with what we normally hear (i.e. audio with a HRTF applied) then it does not feel realistic. Also it is not possible to experience true 3D audio without applying a HRTF as our brains use this HRTF to determine exactly what direction a sound is coming from, including up and down and distance.
(A HRTF is how the audio changes as it reverberates through your body (mostly your head)
Now that VR quality has reached a level that is believable for our brain, anything that lies outside of this level of 'believability' is distracting. It is very similar to uncanny-valley effect. It is so close to real that a part of your brain, believes it is real, while another part of the brain believes it is not real. This creates a conflict. The less conflict the brain experiences, the better the experience for the user.
So, I don't believe there is much evidence for consumer interest in 3D audio, because almost no one has experienced 3D audio other than in their everyday life, and they take it for granted.
In case anyone wants to experience the HRTF effect, I suggest listening to this audio with in-ear earphones and close your eyes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IXm6SuUigI
VR is all about the feeling of "presence". A sense of being "there".
The more of your senses you can "fool" into thinking that your are in the virtual environment, the better.
Vision is our most important sense. Hearing is the next one.
Without 3D audio, it just feels like you are listening to audio that's disconnected from the virtual world, like when you are walking around listening to music with your iPad.