Oh to be a fly on the wall of the R&D department at Redmond. Whether you love their ideas or not, you can't fail to admit that Microsoft have accomplished some impressive feats for the consumer tech market. Looking at Kinect as the first obvious example, let's forget the gaming implications for a moment and think instead of the impact it had on startup markets and making the tech more affordable and accessible. There were ideas (such as a Quadracopter packing Kinect capability
) which were ultimately enhanced or made possible as Kinect packaged up the tech in a neat affordable package. Microsoft had the power of sheer volume on it's side.
Soon after Kinect landed, Microsoft funded a Kinect Accelerator program which saw them dole at $20,000 a time
to a handful of lucky startup companies to hack Kinect's SDK open and harness the potential.
With Kinect a fixture in many Xbox gamers homes, (Microsoft have sold 24 million units
as of February 2013) Microsoft have begun to start looking ahead to the next generation of immersive gaming tech. It's called IllumiRoom
You might have heard this mentioned before. At its heart this product is a proof of concept from Microsoft Research and is aimed at releasing games from the constraints of the plastic bezel. The TV, despite an impressive evolution from CRT to TFT and beyond, has determinedly acted as a very real and physical barrier to the atmosphere and fluidity of our favourite fictional worlds.
[IllumiRoom] augments the area surrounding a television screen with projected visualizations to enhance the traditional living room entertainment experience. [IllumRoom] uses the appearance and the geometry of the room (captured by Kinect) to adapt the projected visuals in real-time without any need to custom pre-process the graphics.
And there is what I consider to be the brilliantly calculated moved from Microsoft Research. Rather than supersede their own technology, they're supplementing it. IllumiRoom and Kinect will combine their hardware capabilities, and the result is quite impressive. I'll hold my hands up, I'm a tech addict at heart and to see the ideas and concepts we're more used to seeing in SciFi series reach our living rooms with affordable price tags is worth getting worked up about. I think so at least. It can't just be me who's craving some Tony Stark style technology in my apartment, right?
Microsoft are in a place now where people and analysts are expecting something a little crazy from them in the console and gaming arena. Kinect was incredibly well received and the Xbox just kept evolving long after one might have guessed it would have faded. Away from the games industry, when it comes to PCs sales are slipping and they're considered more boring than Apple, less flexible than Linux and less friendly than their own Windows 7 of yesteryear. Their phones are hardly duds, but struggle to stand out and gain traction in a world overrun with Androids and iPhones. And tablets? Well, it's more than likely Ballmer would rather not talk about it.
This is Microsoft's runaway success story, and taking bets on big and brash ideas like IllumiRoom isn't just the devil making work for idle thumbs, it's Microsoft trying to distance themselves even further from their competitors and essentially, win.
Here's a full video of IllumiRoom in action. If you're only curious try dropping in to the first minute for some gameplay action and again around the three minute mark. However, if you'd like to learn more about the 'behind-the-scenes' stuff, stick with it for some interesting calibration information which shows how the space surrounding your console is mapped and divided into zones.
If you thought the Kinect war for additional space in your living room was troublesome, expect a whole new heartache if you want to accomodate your TV on a large flat wall, without windows yet with optimal distance for Kinect to operate. Regardless of obstacles such as this though, how are we feeling about the future of IllumiRoom?