April 29, 2013 at 6:03 PM ET
If you've ever wanted a more immersive gaming experience, this prototype from Microsoft Research should pique your interest. It uses a Kinect and a projector to extend the scene from your TV onto the room itself, enabling some mind-blowing effects.
It's called "Illumiroom," and as yet it is only a proof of concept (presented at the Computer-Human Interaction conference in Paris), but the idea is extremely compelling. First, the Kinect does a comprehensive scan of your TV setup — shelves, wall color, distance and all. The projector can then superimpose an image onto those items, either extending your screen or adding virtual elements to the room itself.
For instance, in a racing game, the projector could show an extended field of view to see if you're being passed, or it could add realistic weather to the room, with snow appearing to fly past the player and even accumulating on the floor and furniture.
It can also modify how the room looks, adding an effect like desaturation and cel shading to real-world objects, or simulating the lighting from the game — adding virtual shadows and illumination.
No doubt many gamers would love to get their hands and eyes on the system, but it does have downsides. The projector-Kinect setup is expensive, for one thing: A wide-throw HD projector bright enough to work in moderate light could cost thousands of dollars, and even then sunlight makes it all but useless. It may also be difficult to integrate with existing games, and the extra computing power necessary could cause a framerate hit.
It's still a fascinating demonstration, though it's unlikely to figure in Microsoft's new console, due to be unveiled May 21. More info on the Illumiroom and its creators can be found at the Microsoft Research page.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.