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D-Box Expands the Movie Experience

2 Apr, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

HMM’s John Boezinger with D-BOX's KC Blake

Forget 3-D. How would you like to actually FEEL a movie?

Like the anxiety of running from a dinosaur in Jurassic Park? Or the frenetic motions and adrenalin of a Fast & Furious car chase?

Or that … feeling … you got from that one scene in When Harry Met Sally?

Two companies are taking two very different approaches toward those goals. One’s ideas are just in the research and development phase. The other’s product is available today in both theaters and the home … for a price.

Quebec-based D-Box Technologies has been at it for nearly a decade, trying to get its motion-based seating technology in front of DVD-viewing audiences. Since 2001, codecs have been written into hundreds of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, in an attempt to link living room seating with moves that match the movies. Or, in D-Box’s words, “real-time responsiveness (up to 2Gs of acceleration) to onscreen actions, including pitch, roll and virtual heave.” A post-production crew goes into a movie and, frame-by-frame, adds subtle motions to scenes that the viewer feels, mostly in their back.

And while D-Box has improved on both its seating technology and price ($16,000 initially), the $2,999 home edition it introduced at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show may still be a tough sell during a recession, especially considering less than 900 DVDs and less than 50 Blu-rays have D-Box technology written in (Paramount and Warner Bros. are the two majors to have yet tried out D-Box’s technology for Blu-ray, with Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Bolt the latest to include it).

While penetrating the home entertainment market has been a challenge, starting April 3, theatergoers in Hollywood, Calif. and Surprise, Ariz., will have the opportunity to watch and feel D-Box with Universal Studio’s Fast & Furious .

“We felt there was something missing from the movies,” said Claude Mc Master, president and CEO of D-Box Technologies, speaking during a demo of the technology at the Mann Chinese 6 theater in Hollywood. “The whole idea behind what we’ve done is to offer a new dimension to the viewing experience.”

Two rows of exclusive seating — with a per-seat $8 premium on top of the normal ticket price — take viewers on a not-so-subtle motion-based experience. Attendees can choose between four different levels of intenseness, but every bit of the 5,000-plus effects included in the movie are felt, no matter how high or low you go.

“I liked it a lot,” said Carol Wolper, a 50-year-old resident of La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., after experiencing part of Fast & Furious. “I was clutching the arms. It really made the experience better. Harry Potter [would be] great for the next [D-BOX movie].”

Developed for home entertainment, D-BOX representatives admit that theatrical is their best shot now to get the word out about their product to home entertainment enthusiasts.

“If they experience it here, they’ll want it all the time. … The vibration part is very important,” said Philippe Roy, chief technology officer with D-Box. “We don’t want this to be an amusement park ride.”

He compared it to the industry’s work with 3-D, where only a few theaters had the digital technology needed to begin with. Eventually, Roy said, “feeling” the movie will be something everyone will want at home.

“It may be a recession, but some people can still afford it,” he said.

In Amsterdam, Philips is less interested in having you feel the vibrations of Vin Diesel’s car chase and more interested in having you feel the adrenalin rush his character would feel.

The consumer electronics company is researching both the emotional and physical effects that can be generated by a new, body-conforming tactile jacket, which contains 64 independently controlled actuators across the arms and torso. Movie clips were encoded with corresponding moves generated by the jacket, to elicit an emotional response, or as the company puts it, creating “‘butterflies in your stomach’ for love or a ‘shiver down your spine’ for fear and anxiety.”

“Up to now most of the stimuli were audio or visual. However, touch is one of the basic connections with emotion because it is the first sense fetuses develop in the womb,” said Philips senior spokesman David Wolf. “To study the effect of touch to a person’s emotional response, Philips Research has created this vibration jacket.”

Scenes from Braveheart, When Harry Met Sally, Jurassic Park III, The Lion King, My Bodyguard, Silence of the Lambs and a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon were shown to test subjects wearing the jacket, with the jacket creating a pattern of sensations to relay what was in the scene (e.g., like a comforting arm across the shoulder for a scene in The Lion King).

In nearly every clip, when the jacket was used to relay intended emotions (be it fear from Silence of the Lambs or embarrassment from When Harry Met Sally), the test subjects felt those emotions in spades.

“So it’s not a force feedback jacket to feel the blows to the ribs watching a Bruce Lee movie, but more about how people can feel Bruce Lee’s anxiety about whether he will get out alive,” Wolf explained.

Philips stresses that the jacket is just in the testing phase right now, but admits in its research paper that the goal is to create a better “more immersive movie-viewing experience.”

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