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JBL's Everest Elite cans let you hear actual reality in VR

Engadget Engadget 13/09/2016 Andrew Tarantola
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Normally when you're tooling around in a virtual world, you want the experience to be as immersive as possible. But there's a downside to being cut off from the outside world -- what if the phone rings or the pizza guy starts knocking or a crazed ax murderer breaks in the back door? Well, if you happen to have a pair of JBL Everest Elite headphones and an HTC Vive, you'll be able to take that call, receive that pizza or head Mr. Choppy off at the stairs. All without taking off your ear cans.

The system works by pairing the JBL's Ambient Aware feature to the Vive's Chaperone boundary markers. Basically, when you hit the edge of the Vive activity zone, right when those Chaperone wireframe boundary markers pop up, the JBLs will lower the in-game audio and turn on the headphone's external mics so that you can hear what's going on around you. Move away from the boundary and the in-game audio goes back up while the external mics are cut.

What's especially cool is that this is a software-only upgrade so it'll work with your existing gear when the feature goes live. That said, Harmon reps tell me that it's still in beta and they don't have a firm timetable for when it will be released but guestimate that it could be around the end of the year.

I had the opportunity to try out the feature on Monday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference and was really impressed by it. It's super helpful. Used along with the Chaperone wireframe visuals of people standing near me, I was able to carry on a naturally paced conversation with the Harmon rep while wearing both the Vive headset and the headphones. All I had to do was stick my head out of the virtual "room" and I was (nearly) back in regular reality. It's a head-slappingly simple solution to VR's issue of situational awareness.

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