Friday, June 09, 2006

home theater speaker: New technology adds to video game play

By Jonathan Takiff
Knight Ridder

The Gizmo: While spiffy new systems from the "Big 3" of the video-game industry (Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft) dominated reports from last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo, there were plenty of other newsworthy unveilings at the Los Angeles trade show.

Environmental excitement

High-definition graphics and novel controllers that you wield like a sword or baseball bat aren't the only new ways to pull users deeper into a game. At E3, Philips unveiled a breakthrough called amBX to expand the game field and the player's sense of participation with light-, climate- and vibration-producing peripherals.

Coming first for PC play this fall, then for new-gen game systems in 2007, amBX will work with all games. But it will function most effectively with new games packing a proprietary coded "script."

Here's one scenario: When a lightning storm strikes on screen, amBX LED lights will flicker, transforming the whole room. Or, as you move across a desert landscape, color-shifting lights turn a brownish hue.

Put pedal to the metal in an auto-racing game and you'll really feel the wind in your face, the breeze blowing from small amBX fans.

If your vehicle crashes, you'll feel it in your hands and across the desktop, the impact reverberating through a wired, rumble-enabled amBX wrist pad.

Eight to 12 amBX-enabled games from four publishers will be available around the system's launch, starting with the global-adventure/puzzle-solving "Broken Sword IV" from Revolution Software and THQ.

A starter kit of amBX peripherals, including pairs of fans and LED lights (the latter neatly built into the tops of small desktop speakers), will cost in the $100 to $150 range from Philips' Peripherals and Accessories division. The rumble maker adds $20 to $30.

As the system is modular and linkable, many more devices can be easily added. For use with game consoles in a living room setting, Philips will offer larger lights to position around the space like a home theater speaker system, creating an enveloping game chamber. The peripheral array also is likely to include fast-response heaters and "active" furniture.

Noted game peripheral maker SpectraVideo PLC has likewise signed on to make amBX products under its Logic3 brand.

More from the floor

GestureTek's video gesture recognition technology will be deployed in the Xbox Live Vision camera for Xbox 360, Microsoft's answer to (and elaboration on) the Sony EyeToy.

Sony demonstrated a novel way to use its PSP portable system in tandem with the new PS3 game console. On an auto racing game, hold the PSP out to your side and it becomes a rear view mirror, showing who's creeping up behind you.

Nokia wants to make game playing a lot easier on mobile phones. A single button push on new N Series and S60 devices will take users instantly to Nokia's next-generation mobile gaming platform and N-Gage virtual arena, coming in 2007. (Current N-Gage owners will have to trade up to to play on the new system.)

Microsoft chief Bill Gates was also touting increased compatibility between the Xbox 360, the soon-to-come Windows Vista PC operating system and mobile phones. With any of those devices and a cross-platform "Gamer tag" ID, users will be able to communicate through the Xbox Live game network to send e-mail, chat or share content. used E3 to launch a line of pricey, custom gaming PCs from Velocity MicroPC.

Alienware and introduced a goofy line of PCs built into cases resembling a Dodge Magnum, Charger or Viper, plus limited-edition desktop and notebook PCs decorated with a big "Superman" logo, tied to the upcoming "Superman Returns" film.

Toshiba Satellite notebook computers (and soon, many other brands of PCs) will add a virtual gaming console, developed and managed by online game publisher WildTangent.

Five top-selling casual games will be built into the notebooks. Plus, the computer will link to a portal for fast and seamless download and installation of 3-D-quality games.

WildTangent also announced a new "currency" to pay for games on a per-session basis. "Wild Coins" are virtual tokens with a 25-cent retail value that consumer can earn, win or purchase to play downloadable games.

Ziff Davis Game Group has just launched the beta version of, a search site to locate comprehensive game news, reviews, cheats, screenshots and more.

The broadband entertainment network GameTap hopes to keep subscribers coming back with its new "Sam & Max" game series, played in episodic, cliffhanger fashion like an old movie serial. Will this dynamic, dog and rabbit duo survive to fight crime again? Tune in and play next week!

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