Microsoft’s IllumiRoom Blends Gaming, Real-World Environments

While Microsoft isn’t taking the wraps off its upcoming next-generation video game console until next month, it did cast a little more illumination on its IllumiRoom projection system on Monday.


Projecting wider field-of-view content around the television increases immersion.

The system, which is the subject of a research paper to bepresented at this week’s Conference on Human Factors in ComputingSystems in Paris, has been described as a proof-of-concept technologythat augments the area surrounding a television. Among other things, it canproject visualizations that are meant to enhance the traditionalgaming experience.

“IllumiRoom seems like a potentially disruptive game technology, butwhen Kinect was in beta and demo stages, it also appeared to have thepotential to change the gaming experience,” said independent videogame analyst Billy Pidgeon. “At this point, the room overlay projectiontech is probably most effective in generating interest withdevelopers.”

Microsoft declined to provide further details.

Game Projections

The IllumiRoom is not the first technology to attempt tocreate a more immersing experience, but the jury is still out as towhether most gamers will embrace this type of system in the home.

“These are peripherals. These aren’t likely going to be at the centerof the interactive experience,” said video game consultant N’Gai Croal of Hit Detection. “This is a bit like a home theater; you either havethe space or don’t, but that’s mean you can’t watch movies.”

The current design may not lend itself to gamers taking full advantage of it in the home.

“Microsoft has showed an example of the device sitting on a coffeetable in front of the TV set, or mounted from the ceiling. Very fewpeople have a ceiling mounted device, and even with a coffee tableprojection system it would need to be tucked under the table and outof the way,” said Lewis Ward, research manager for gaming at IDC. “Ina practical setting, without the perfect viewing conditions, it couldlimit the niche — and this in turn limits the practical application ofsuch a device.”

Peripheral Vision

It is likely that Microsoft could help build support for suchtechnology by incorporating it into its first-partysoftware titles for its upcoming video game system.

“Microsoft is likely working on internal uses, but new gamingtechnology won’t catch on unless it can help external developerscreate unusual gameplay with competitive commercial value,” addedPidgeon.

“We’ve seen a number of vendors and publishers launch newtech promising to provide innovative game control and displaytechnologies in recent years, and the user experience delivered hascome up short of the hyped promise,” he pointed out.

“We’ll continue to see interesting new control-and-display tech, butvendors should be savvy enough to keep expectations low,” Pidgeon toldTechNewsWorld.

IllumiRoom may have to get past the chicken-and-egg problem before it has a chance of taking off.

“It has that wow factor, but it is going to have to be something thatMicrosoft supports internally,” said IDC’s Ward. “Game developers andpublishers aren’t going to spend the money to develop for it until ithas a large install base.”

In turn game buyers won’t buy it until there is a game library for it.

“We could be looking at something that could approach US$1,000 atretail,” said Ward. “Even if Microsoft added the technology to allfirst-party games, it wouldn’t have enough of a base for third-partydevelopers to sign on en masse.”

Commercial Appeal

Such a device could have potential in commercialapplications and could certainly be a hit at special events.

“For commercial purposes such as trade shows — vendors or electronicscompanies who want to do cool visuals around a PowerPointpresentation — this could work quite well,” Ward told TechNewsWorld.

Future Proof

Although Microsoft is presenting IllumiRoom in a living room setting, it may be that the technology will find greater acceptance outside the home.

“You can’t envision everything in a lab, and this is a start to whereit could go,” added Croal.

“We’re going to see things that come outafter this. Microsoft’s implementation might be through a console, butthere is no reason this couldn’t be used with a PC down the road — orcouldn’t be used with a tablet or a smartphone at the center of theinfrastructure. The key components are motion sensor, the projectorand the TV,” he noted.

“This could lead to an abstract that could evolve and work with othersources of imagery, as long as the CPU horsepower is there,” Croal suggested.

“In the future, there is going to be a lot more onboard CPU power inthe TV itself and the camera/projector,” he pointed out. “Until we get to the holodeck,people are going to experiment with technology that can simulate and emulate virtual experiences.”

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