Microsoft recently revealed their latest innovation to go alongside the Kinect—IllumiRoom. It extends the field of vision outside of the television and projects it onto the walls, furniture, and whatever else you have in your game room. Although there were a few odd behaviors in the demonstration and stills, it seems like a sound product that would be ready for production within weeks. However, it is in no way a feature that I hope to see next generation as a console’s gimmick. It’s simply lacking.
The IllumiRoom is fine in concept and looks fun to play with: the flashes, blurs, and extended scenery are like a form of surround stereo for the eyes. It hones peripheral vision, which is already something gamers need a lot of. It adds to immersion, but it has one fatal flaw—what if people were already using projectors to display their games? And, if they have a projector that can project across furniture, why not just blow up the game to fit the whole wall instead? Most of a game’s crucial and immersive content fits in the screen, so there’s no need to extend out of it. What’s more, the screen size is adapted to the natural viewing ratio of the eyes—extending out would kind of break that ratio and defeat the purpose.
Another major flaw of the IllumiRoom and one that will keep it from being mass-produced is its price. There is no such thing as a cheap projector, with Amazon ringing up this kids-version of their projector at a steep $90 price. That’s about the same as the light bulb inside it costs. Yes, those light bulbs can cost as much as a handheld console, and they last about three years if you’re nice to them. Unless Microsoft has found some kind of magical light bulb technology to make projector light bulbs cheaper, there’s no way I can see this making its way into living rooms, even as an accessory. If Microsoft plans on shipping this in conjunction with their next console, I feel kind of bad for them. Using some lasers to light up the room in response to explosions or loud noises would be cheaper and ultimately have the same effect.
The main problem with this feature is that it does not add to game play. Combined with what will have to be an expensive price tag and expensive upkeep, the bonus that it gives to game play just isn’t enough. Even if extending the screen outside of the television seems like a nifty feature, it will rarely come in handy for gamers (they’ll be focusing on what matters, and what matters will be on their screen). I will give the project one compliment—it would be fun to use at an arcade with lots of space to spare. It would allow other people to immerse in the game and help sales for that particular game. What’s more, an arcade would be able to afford it and it could earn back the cost easily, making repairs a non-issue. It’s unfortunate, but the IllumiRoom is hindered by what makes it great—the projection light bulb that puts the image onto the wall.