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Feel the Vibe: Philips amBX Examined

Philips introduced its amBX technology a little less than one and a half years ago with the aim to redefine video gaming, movie watching and music listening experience with new types of effects enabled by specially created devices.

Philips promised that through enabled devices – such as LED color-controlled lights, active furniture, fans, heaters, audio and video – strategically placed in the user’s room, gamers or movie watchers will have even more immersive experience than they do today with large high-resolution screens, 7.1 channel audio and other entertainment-related hardware. This year the company plans to finally launch the first product series that features amBX concept: several sets of gaming peripherals, which we had a chance to try-out at CeBIT 2007 show in a special booth.

Philips amBX conceptual art. Click to enlarge

So far there are not a lot of games which should support amBX from the start – there are only five of them to be precise (Broken Sword: The Angel of Death, DEFCON, Toca Race Driver 3, Rail Simulator and Darwinia), however, the company has enabled amBX light effects with some older games, including Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Need for Speed Undeground 2, Half-Life 2, F.E.A.R. and so on (currently there are about 50 titles listed) with the help of special patches that come with its FXGenerator software. From some point of view amBX may seem like Ageia PhysX, a technology fully dependant on support by game developers, but the difference is that there are ten games taking advantage of PhysX after a year on the market and there is one games that takes advantage of amBX ahead of its commercial launch with four more “coming soon”.

Philips plans to offer three versions of amBX kits for gamers this spring:

  • Starter kit: a directional wall washer LED light unit, controller unit and two satellite LED light units. Expected price is $199.
  • Pro gamer kit: a directional wall washer light, a controller unit, 2.1 speaker system with LED light units on speakers. Expected price is $299.
  • Premium kit: a directional wall washer light, a controller unit, 2.1 speaker system with LED light units on speakers, two 5000rpm desk fans, wrist pad with vibrating mechanism. Expected price is $399.
  • Extension kit: two 5000rpm desk fans, wrist pad with vibrating mechanism. Expected price is $99.

Even though among the amBX supporting titles Toca Race Driver 3 is available now, Philips demonstrated how amBX premium kit for gamers affects formula 1 driving using a proprietary demo game. Given that racing occurs during a sunny day, Philips’ LED light units that can display up to 60 million of colours do not provide any kind of noticeable effects with this demo game. However, the fans and vibrating pad certainly do: the former are blowing like the wind does during cycling (evidently, F1 drivers wear helmet and a special mask that does not allow those helmets to weld on to pilot’s head in case of fire and hardly feel any wind) and the latter is vibrating whenever the driver hits something.

Philips amBX demo system at CeBIT 2007. Click to enlarge

Generally speaking, the particular demo game is not very good example of what amBX could do: it is funny that there is some kind of physical feedback to your actions, but it not really exciting and it provides no additional immersion. A much better way to demonstrate the amBX would be using the Pier level from Far Cry, as it features a lot of wind while the character is flying a hang-glider, some vibration effects and lighting effects would also play a big role. Evidently, the demo system’s mouse should also feature force-feedback and the demo should be carried out on a monitor at least 24” in diagonal.

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