Color, stereo, surround sound, force feedback, home theater, HDTV, ambient lighting, 3D TV; see a trend? As technology evolves so does our desire to be more immersed in our entertainment. Anyone who has been to CES or read the many stories surrounding the annual announcement superweek knows that 3D TV is the latest technology on its way to the home setting. The bottom line is we are trying to live the movie we are watching or game we are playing.
3D is here, but how good is it? Many new movies and games are now designed to support 3D, let’s take for example the new movie (and game) Avatar. It came out in both traditional 2D as well as 3D and of course I opted for the extra +1 dimension so I can feel a bit more like I’m there. It was pretty cool, there was a decent amount of depth and best of all I did not get a headache, especially considering it was nearly 3 hours long. The new generation 3D technology called Real D uses Circular polarization technology which improves the viewable angle of the 3D image and greatly reduces flicker [as compared to traditional anaglyph 3D]. However, I must say that I was left somewhat disappointed. There still was some flicker, the picture seemed about 40% darker than usual and nothing jumped out of the screen. It was just three dimensional, but it was not spacial.
3D Movies attract record audiences, as witnessed by U2 3D, most successful concert movie ever and Avatar 3D
3D in film has been around for decades, in fact the concept dates back to the 1890s but I’m not trying to give a whole history lesson here so let’s move on. Many of you might remember visiting a theme park like Universal Studios or MGM Disney and seeing a 3D movie. What made that experience cool was how far the characters or objects came out of the screen. Even with the older RED/BLUE anaglyphic stereoscopic glasses it seemed like birds or dinosaurs were an inch away from your nose. I always got a kick out of watching people jump out of their seat. Well, no one jumped out of their seat for Avatar 3D! Perhaps 3D, a 120 year old technology still has not fully matured.
Thankfully new technologies are popping up and evolving. Take for example a company called amBX, a British company that recently spun off from Philips Electronics. AmBX created the technology that uses a combination of lighting, sound, vibration and wind to immerse the user the world they are viewing. No doubt soon you will find amBX technology inside various hardware choices, much like what Dolby has done for audio. At the moment there is one line of products, introduced by Philips that sports amBX technology. Get your paws on the Philips AmBX Premium Gaming Kit and the next time you blow something up in a video game you will feel the rumble under your hands, feel the wind from the blast in your face, hear the explosion in 2.1 audio and your room will turn bright orange to simulate the fire ball the ensues your destruction. Imagine that, three out of your five senses are now involved.
Another example is TN Games, a small company out of Washington State that developed a unique way of providing force feedback. Through a clever system of compressed air and hoses built into a vest the user feels impact from bullets, explosions and even punches in a video game. This is not a trifling rumble or buzz but an actual sensation that mimics the character and direction of an action. Imagine you are playing a First-person Shooter (FPS) game and someone shoots your character in the back, from above/left and you feel it just in the right spot [upper, left, back]. Well you can if you are wearing the TN Games FPS Gaming Vest. Get too close to a grenade explosion and you will likely feel several impact points all over the front and back of your torso. The first time you try the vest it feels weird, but after playing while wearing it for about 30 minutes your body and mind get used to the feedback you receive from the vest. Try playing without it and a FPS game just doesn’t feel the same. When you cannot feel where the shots are coming from your reaction gets diminished, and you almost have to get used to playing without the vest again. For those interested in feeling skull shots, there is also an FPS helmet that is currently in the works.
So what will be next for immersive entertainment? Well imagine watching a movie in a truly immersive environment. Imaging witnessing a massive explosion on screen, particles looking like they are flying towards you in 3D, lights making everything orange and red all around, fans blowing a forceful wind [at you from the direction of the explosion], your seat rumbling, feeling shrapnel on your body and perhaps even smelling the smoke and feeling the heat. All that without really getting hurt, talk about amazing. One day soon that will all be possible. All of these technologies are out there and eventually they will be done right and combined to create a truly incredible, immersive experience.