As Director of the games business at Dolby Laboratories, Spencer Hooks works with major gaming and consumer electronics companies to license Dolby technologies in video game consoles, game peripherals, PCs, and the games themselves. He also manages the development of new technologies, tools, and services for the gaming market. Spencer has been passionate about audio his whole life and has been making sound a career since joining Dolby in 1999. Dolby is a globally innovator of sound, video, and voice technologies for cinemas, home theaters, PCs, mobile devices, and games. Droid Report recently interviewed Spencer about his current role at Dolby and discussed audio, mobile and gaming insights.
Droid Report: Hello Spencer, could you tell us more about your current role and your initiatives for 2014?
Spencer Hooks: I lead our gaming team at Dolby. My team is responsible for all of the Dolby products in the video game market and for the business there as a whole. This includes: Dolby Digital on game consoles, Dolby Headphone on gaming headsets, and Dolby Digital Plus in mobile games. We have a really exciting roadmap of new technology and products coming. For 2014 our focus is on the mobile gaming market.
Droid Report: How is Dolby moving forward with gaming and audio today?
Spencer Hooks: We have a long history of innovation in gaming that goes all the way back to 1994 when the first game shipped with Dolby surround sound. Dolby audio technology has progressively delivered a more realistic and immersive experience in the gaming world ever since. However, when we look at the mobile gaming market, we can see that gameplay and graphics have really outpaced sound. There’s a gap that we want to help bridge.
Many mobile game developers aspire to deliver console-quality games. They are developing games with stories, characters, and graphics that rival consoles at times. In fact many mobile devices feature screens with a higher pixel count than HD televisions. But the sound quality on devices is typically subpar and mobile games are typically produced in mono (or at best stereo). We are working closely with device manufacturers like Amazon, Samsung, ZTE, and Lenovo to improve the sound quality of their devices. We are also integrating surround sound into the devices so users can experience sound that is truly bigger than the device – graphics are limited to the small device screen but sound can be much bigger, especially when delivered in surround via Dolby Headphone. And, starting in October of last year we began working with game developers to show them how to take advantage of the technology that is now shipping on these devices.
Our vision is that games on mobile move from mono to full 5.1 surround sound and that they fully leverage the powerful audio processing that is resident on devices like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we are the best company to push the mobile gaming industry forward to this vision. In fact, this week we are speaking to developers at the Appsworld on a panel about the Future of Mobile Gaming, and we have a dedicated session to talk about improving audio on mobile applications.
Droid Report: How does Dolby stand out when it comes to Dolby technologies for game design?
Spencer Hooks: We view our technology as a tool that the developer can use to build a better game. The earlier in their developer process that game designers and developers embrace these tools, the better they can use them to help tell the story of the game. In mobile, the thing that differentiates us is our ability to work closely with all of the different pieces of the mobile market. Here’s an example: We worked closely with Amazon in the development of the Kindle Fire HDX so that our technology is truly optimized to make the Kindle sound it’s best. We also worked with Qualcomm to make sure that our technology is optimized to be as efficient as possible, so there’s minimal impact on battery life or frame rate. And now we are working with developers so that they can take advantage of it in their games. And since the technology is already on the device, it’s very easy to implement and free for developers. So in the end, tools like surround sound enable developers to design games that expand beyond the small mobile screen.
Droid Report: What are your personal thoughts on the future of mobile, audio and gaming?
Spencer Hooks: The power of mobile devices is growing at such a fast a rate that it’s only a matter of time until they catch up to game consoles – even with the massive power of the new generation of consoles. The speed of the mobile market also shows up in apps where graphics improve, input mechanisms evolve, and business models change incredibly fast. I think the future of mobile gaming will include a wide variety of games. Some will be completely new types of games and leverage connections to new mobile accessories and new human interface devices. However, we will also see the further evolution of the game genres we know and love. So we will continue to see tower defense, shooters, puzzle games, etc. And we will see that graphics and especially sound will also continue to evolve to provide more and more immersive gameplay. There may be a transformative technology that gives us much bigger (or virtual) mobile screens, but I think audio is actually the best bet for extending the game world beyond the screen.
Droid Report: Is there anything else you feel Android users and the Android market should know?
Spencer Hooks: I encourage Android users to never settle for bad audio. Play a game with great sound to see what’s possible. If you like it, then you should tell the companies that make devices and the developers that make games that sound is important to you. There are a lot of people in the industry that assume consumers don’t care about sound and that they play mobile games with the sound turned off. But every time we talk to consumers we hear that sound is important to them. And how can you expect a gamer to listen to mobile game sound, when frankly what they hear today just isn’t typically very good. If you give a gamer a great sounding game on a great sounding device they won’t turn off the sound.
And to the developers reading this, I would say that Dolby is here to help. We have tools and information available at developer.dolby.com.
We would like to thank Spencer Hooks for taking the time for this discussion and Dolby.