In 2011, Microsoft quietly submitted a patent application for something the company called an “immersive display experience." But Microsoft stayed silent on the subject until this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, when it announced the Xbox IllumiRoom, an augmented reality attachment for its soon-to-be-announced console that extends your game beyond the TV screen.
Well, since the name “Holodeck” was already taken by "Star Trek"…
Now, Microsoft’s research and development team has released another video — but this time, it offers a closer look at IllumiRoom’s capabilities.
In the video, an IllumiRoom projector placed on a coffee table in front of a TV is able to project images onto the walls beyond the screen, effectively expanding the user’s portal into the game world. It works best if the TV is placed in front of a blank wall, but the IllumiRoom is supposed to be capable of scanning your living room and correcting its projections for irregular surfaces.
Still, even from the video, you can tell that spotting snipers projected over a bookshelf in the living room corner isn’t going to be easy.
IllumiRoom doesn’t just expand the playable field —it can enhance a traditional screen-bound gaming experience with visual effects, like a grid or a gentle snowfall projected around the screen. In the video, the snow seems to bounce off the floor, thanks to IllumiRoom’s ability to scan using a Kinect sensor. These effects don’t directly enhance gamers’ ability to interface with the game world, but they do contribute to creating a visual experience capable of going beyond a TV screen and into the human field of vision.
IllumiRoom is “next generation” in more ways than just the "Star Trek" reference —”next generation” also refers to the current and upcoming round of gaming consoles from the Big Three game-makers: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo’s next-gen console, the Wii U, came out last fall, and Sony announced its PlayStation 4 in February and promised more details by the E3 gaming conference this June. Only Microsoft is still keeping its next-generation play under wraps, though the all-but-confirmed device is unofficially known as the Xbox 720 and will likely be announced at a Microsoft event on May 21.
[See also: 6 Big Questions About the Next Xbox ]
It seems like the IllumiRoom is the next generation of the Kinect, Xbox’s motion-sensor device. The Kinect was supposed to make game controllers obsolete by allowing players to interact with video games via hand gestures and body movements. That didn't happen with most games, however — the Kinect couldn’t offer players the precision that buttons and analog sticks could.
The IllumiRoom has an advantage over the Kinect: It’s not trying to replace anything — not even the screen. It enhances the experience in a couple of fun visual ways.
We’ll know more when Microsoft officially unveils its next-gen game console. And it probably won’t be until the holiday season that we get a chance to check out the IllumiRoom ourselves.