D-Box is a company whose name I've been seeing a lot of lately. First, I saw a little logo on the back of a Blu-ray movie, then another... then, when I got to Los Angeles for E3 and went sight-seeing at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, I saw a sign advertising the fact that they had D-Box seats in the theater.
D-Box Motion Code is a system whereby motion-related data is encoded into a high-definition movie, so a special decoder box and motion device (such as a theater seat) can re-create the motion based on these recorded motion cues, giving a full motion experience to moviegoers, whether the hand prints just outside the theater are from celebrities in hardened concrete or from your kids in chocolate on the walls just outside your home theater.
When I arrived at E3 2009, I found that D-Box isn't just for your movies. D-Box encoding can be added to videogames, as well... and the result is nothing short of awesome. I tried out two different setups at D-Box' s booth: one with a formula racing game, and the other playing Dirt 2 - an upcoming game from CodeMasters.
I'm a fan of the racing genre, but I've never been big on formula racers. I know the cars are capable of incredible speeds, but I've never been fond of the penalties for straying off course, whether they be in points or simply sitting and spinning in the sand. I hope no one was videotaping my performance while I was playing, because I wasn't trying to play my best, I was simply trying to see what the D-Box simulation seat could do. Driving across a hill in the track, I could feel the ridges of the ground beneath me. When I went the wrong way down the track and my tire struck the tire of an oncoming car, I felt the bump. It was pretty cool. And, while I was originally thinking that I would be reporting that the D-Box motion made the game more fun but wouldn't improve a gamer's performance, I changed my mind when I determined exactly what was occurring during one of my bigger annoyances with formula games. Specifically, there is an annoying high-pitched revving sound that always occurs when I get off in the sand. With D-Box motion effects, I was able to feel the car lurch forward and backward when the engine would overpower the brakes and the wheels would lose traction. With this realization, I was able to adjust my fuel and brake usage to avoid losing traction in the sand. That one fix will definitely increase my performance in formula racing games.
Playing a rally race in Dirt 2 with D-Box proved to be difficult, since you have to try to maintain control of a vehicle on some really rough terrain. The simulated motion helps to make you appreciate the need for strategic braking in rally games, such as Dirt 2. I could definitely feel the loose dirt, potholes and barriers as I hit each one, respectively. D-Box brings a true simulation aspect to console and PC gaming. I'd love to get some more time with a D-Box chair and use it with my games and also try it out with the aforementioned Blu-rays. These were action movies, so I would expect that they'd put a D-Box chair through its paces.
One thing worthy of note is that D-Box isn't trying to be a huge mega-corporation and do everything themselves. (This is a good thing.) By doing what they excel at and partnering with key companies to do the parts they're not familiar with, better products make it to market and they don't shoot themselves in the foot. If they tried to make their own movies and games, instead of partnering with studios to get D-Box encoding included in their products, for example, we'd probably end up with sub-par games and movies that work with a product no one would ever hear of. The same thing goes for the chairs. To this end, D-Box has partnered with high-end theater and home-theater seating companies and merely provided them with the motion bases and explanation of the types of physical stress to expect. This lets the chair designers create chairs that are comfortable, while being flexible and durable enough to handle the motion from the D-Box Motion Platforms.
For the end user, however, there are a variety of options, from purchasing the above mentioned high-end D-Box compatible home theater seating, to purchasing a home gaming or pro gaming series racing seat to purchasing a Motion Platform for use with an existing chair at home. They even have a full race car cockpit simulator that, basically, looks like the front two-thirds of a formula car without the wheels. If all of the above is currently out of your reach, you can check out D-Box seating at select theaters. Well, I know they're in Mann's Chinese Theater, at least...
As for content, according to the D-Box website, there are at least 850 movie titles (DVD or Blu-ray) that support D-Box, as well as these games: ACTC, ARCA Sim Racing, DiRT, DiRT 2, GRID, iRacing, Live For Speed, Need For Speed Undercover, Nitro Stunt Racing, rFactor, X-Motor Racing, Microsoft Flight Simulator X, X-Plane, Battlefield 2 and Crysis Warhead.