Gaming history is littered with ambitious inventions designed to make the experience more ‘real’. From 3D LCD shutterglasses, to bass subwoofers you strap to your chest, to expensive racing cockpits, and countless things that vibrate.
Philips is just about to enter the game with the amBX range of game enhancement devices. It’s a big brave move, but the company has invested heavily in the technology, and while it’s certainly radical, it does what it’s supposed to – being to enhance the physical and visual of the game beyond the basic box.
amBX is a set of bits that add that next degree of realism. Much of it is based on Philips’ existing Ambilight TV technology, plus there’s a nice rumble pad, and a completely whacked-out set of desk fans to add some physical presence to the game.
You can buy the components separately, but the whole kit is:Ambilight
Based on the Philips TV technology of the same name, which if you’ve seen it is surprisingly enjoyable and effective. Light boxes surround you with a constantly changing colour spectrum based on what’s on screen. The changes are very rapid and the whole idea is to extend the perception of the size of the game world.
|The Wallwasher and basic light stands|
It works, but only when you stop checking out the effects themselves and focus on the game. All the amBX devices tempt you to focus on the devices themselves, but once you get over that the real benefits come to the fore.
The key box is the Wall Washer. It sits behind the monitor out of site and throws colours against the wall from three panels of multiple RGB LEDs. The colours generated are generalized versions of the colours on screen. Because it’s all in your peripheral vision and your attention is on the screen it pulls it off, creating a pleasant feeling that the game isn’t confined to the box of your screen.
It’s a very simple idea. You don’t watch the colours, rather your peripheral vision registers them as an extension of the game world.
External light towers can be added left and right, and you can buy as many of these as you like, if you really want to surround yourself. You can get towers that just feature lights, or there’s a 2.1 speaker set version.
I didn’t have long enough to play with the system during the demo I was given by Philips, and constantly found myself distracted by the changing colours. While the wall washer effect is a very nice painting of the wall behind the screen with a spread of colour, the stands have small focal points of light. Speaking to people who had played longer, apparently you do soon enough forget they’re there.Wrist rumbler
It’s a full keyboard-width soft wrist rest, and it’s got just about the best rumble effect I’ve felt in any rumbly game peripheral or controller.
While the pad is soft and comfy – and a decisive ergonomic benefit too – the entire length emits a solid and consistent vibration that I personally found added something meaningful to the right games. It can emit a barely perceptible gentle thrum, or a full-on “omg everything’s falling apart!”. Top quality engineering is evidently at work here.The fans
Ok, now this is the eyebrow-raising weird bit. Podded fans that blow on your face according to the in-game action. The obvious example being going faster in a driving game, or an explosion, but subtle uses come into play too, such as opening a door in a FPS and feeling a gentle waft of air, or walking outside and feeling the breeze pick up.
It’s wacky stuff, but Philips have spent years developing this technology and it’s more than just a couple of off the shelf fans that blast occasionally. Each pod has two fans, contra-rotating. They spin up from idle to full-munt extremely quickly, so are able to keep pace with quickly changing game dynamics. The range of effect is about 3 feet.
|The fans do look nice and jetty, and the rumble pad is a top quality shaker|
At full 500RPM speed the fan noise is loud. Obtrusively loud. You’d want headphones at volume or speakers cranked to mask the sound. There is an option to slide back the peak RPM, so you can do some adjustments to make sure it fits your liking.
Like the light stands, you start with 2 in the basic kit, but can add as many as you like (via USB) and the software will utilize the extras accordingly.