UPDATED! A First Look at High Fidelity’s New Browser-Based Platform with 3D Audio

In a blogpost posted yesterday on the official High Fidelity blog, CEO Philip Rosedale wrote:

Today, after some successful alpha testing with friends and family, we are releasing a beta version of our new service that lets you gather together in groups of up to 150 people, using 3D audio to create a unique new experience that is comfortable, fun, and empowering. We hope people will be able to use it to connect and reconnect with each other for a wide variety of reasons — from listening to live music, to family gatherings, parties, festivals, classrooms, happy hours, or anything else you can dream up. 

There is no download. High Fidelity is cloud-based and works using a browser on your smartphone or computer. Everyone in your family, all of your friends and colleagues, have a device that should be able to use it. 

To get your own space right now, complete the form at the bottom of this post or on our homepage. You will get a link to your own High Fidelity space that you can immediately invite others into simply by sharing your link. You can easily change the background of your space to an image of your choosing, as well as add more advanced things like links to other media.  

The new version of High Fidelity builds on the patented technology that our team has been building for the past seven years to enable warm, rich 3D audio that enables large groups of people to talk and interact at the same time. As you move around in High Fidelity, you will hear the others from the correct direction and distance, as you would at a physical gathering in real life. You can move close to someone and whisper in their ear, or move away from others and listen to the murmur of a crowd from afar.  

During this beta release phase, all available High Fidelity servers will be free to users. Eventually we intend to charge based on usage, but hope to keep costs low enough to be affordable for a wide range of events and experiences. In the coming months, we will expand the capacity of High Fidelity to thousands of concurrent people, to enable larger events such as political rallies or big festivals.

I did submit a request, and the email that I received provided a bit more information about the platform:

  • It is a 3D audio experience in a 2D environment designed for flat screen devices, like computers and mobile devices (not VR headsets).
  • Be careful how and who you share your server link with. Anyone who has the link, can access it. 
  • Max capacity for default servers is 50 people. (If you need something bigger, please contact us and we’ll see if we can fire up a bigger one for 100 people)
  • It is currently designed for Chrome browsers only. (Exception: iOS devices require a Safari browser.)
  • Expect bugs and regular software updates.

Clicking on the provided URL takes you to the following sign-in screen, giving you both headphones and non-headphones options:

You are then asked to confirm your choices for audio input and output devices:

You are then assigned a randomly-generated name (I had a good laugh at mine, so I decided to keep it!), and you can also upload a user icon:

Overall, this whole sign-on process reminds me strongly of that of Mozilla Hubs, so I will compare and contrast the two platforms in this mini-review.

The first disappointing thing is that, unlike Mozilla Hubs, you don’t even get an avatar! You just have a user icon, which pulses according to the sound waves when you speak (like the heads on the Hubs avatars do). You can move around using the arrow keys, but you are stuck in 2-D flat mode; you cannot move away from looking straight down at the ground! The backgrounds are blurry and very pixelated.

Overall, this gave me a very negative first impression! Who on Earth would use this for a political rally or a music festival, especially with so many other social VR platforms and virtual worlds offering far better features?

My “avatar” in-world: Not a great first impression.

Obviously, High Fidelity is aiming for mobile users here. You can invite other users to join you via QR code or URL:

According to their knowledge base, you can change the background image, but it’s a bit cumbersome:


To change the background image in High Fidelity to one of your own choosing, simply change the URL you are using to get to the server. For example, for a server with the URL

https://map.highfidelity.com/NXZL6Cx9LhsUbDBq/

You would add a link to the image you want as your background to the end of it, like so:

https://map.highfidelity.com/NXZL6Cx9LhsUbDBq/?map=backgroundURL

In the above, backgroundURL is a URL to file hosted elsewhere. The final link would look something like this:

https://map.highfidelity.com/NXZL6Cx9LhsUbDBq/?map=https://hifi-content.s3.amazonaws.com/ryan/garden3.jpg

When you have your link, open it in your browser to access High Fidelity with the new background image. NOTE: Background images must be 2048 x 2048 PNG or JPG files, no larger than 2MB in file size. You must specify an HTTPS image, rather than HTTP, or else users will see “Not Secure” in their browser when they visit your server.

The above only changes the background image for you. For others to see it, they need to come in to High Fidelity using the same link you are using.

To stream audio into High Fidelity, you have to use a separate program called Voicemeeter Banana (here are the instructions from the Knowledge Base):

Image taken from the Knowledge Base on how to set up Voicemeeter Banana
to stream audio into High Fidelity.

Those of us who were crossing our fingers and hoping for something a bit more exciting from High Fidelity as the company’s next act are going to be seriously disappointed by this.

High Fidelity took one, single feature from their former social VR platform and built an absolutely bargain-basement, lowest-common-denominator platform to give people 2D access to their patented spatialized, 3D audio. And frankly, I don’t think that spatialized audio is going to be enough to attract people to this new platform.

If I had to sum by my in-world experience in one word, it would be underwhelming. (Or perhaps, meh.) Sorry, but at this early beta stage, I have to give this project a thumbs down. I would suggest that the team at High Fidelity take a good look at Mozilla Hubs to see what they should be offering in addition to the 3D audio (and which, by the way, works on all the devices that High Fidelity also seems to be targeting, including mobile phones and tablets).

Meh.

UPDATE 8:21 p.m.: Kent Bye of the Voices of VR podcast, who published a 40-minute interview on Periscope with Philip Rosedale today, described the new HiFi as “a remote work solution that brings conversational clustering to recreate a cocktail party vibe” which allowed him to “navigate via a 2D blueprint UI, but with fully spatialized audio in a virtualized space”. He also said:

I do a lot of audio, and the frequency response is one of the best I’ve heard for voice.

I believe that the reason that Kent and I have such different opinions about the new High Fidelity platform is because he is (of course) all about the audio quality, being first and foremost a podcaster, and I am primarily a visually-oriented person, which is why I found the graphics so disappointing.

It’s a great interview, and Philip explains many of his design decisions for this new platform, including why they decided to use user icons instead of avatars. So I have a much better understanding, after listening to this, where they were coming from, but I still think the visuals could use a bit more polish. Maybe the next iteration?

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