The primary concern of this paper is whether the utility of audio spatialization, as opposed to the fidelity of audio spatialization, impacts presence. An experiment is reported that investigates the presence-performance relationship by decoupling spatial audio fidelity (realism) from task performance by varying the spatial fidelity of the audio independently of its relevance to performance on the search task that subjects were to perform. This was achieved by having conditions in which subjects searched for a music-playing radio (an active sound source) and having conditions in which the playing radio would be stationary (a passive sound source) while subjects searched for some other object. Independent of this, the music emitted by the radio would be either fully spatialized or directional but nonattenuated.
Findings include that for subjects searching for the active sound source, being supplied only nonattenuated audio was detrimental to performance. Even so, this group of subjects consistently had the largest increase in presence scores over the baseline experiment. Further, the Witmer and Singer (1998) presence questionnaire was more sensitive to whether the audio source was active or not, while the presence questionnaire used by Slater and coworkers (see Tromp et al., 1998) was more sensitive to whether audio was fully spatialized or not. Finally, having the sound source active positively impacts the assessment of the audio while negatively impacting subjects' assessment of the visuals.