LOS ANGELES — The promise of a real-world “Holodeck” is coming closer to reality, with Microsoft’s unveiling of its groundbreaking RoomAlive technology.
The Holodeck, of course, is the fully realistic virtual reality environment familiar to “Star Trek” fans, with its high level technology not only science fiction today, but the Holy Grail of immersion visionaries.
According to Microsoft, RoomAlive is a proof-of-concept prototype that transforms any room into an immersive, augmented entertainment experience.
“Our system enables new interactive projection mapping experiences that dynamically adapts content to any room,” states a Microsoft Research rep. “Users can touch, shoot, stomp, dodge and steer projected content that seamlessly co-exists with their existing physical environment.”
“The basic building blocks of RoomAlive are projector-depth camera units, which can be combined through a scalable, distributed framework,” the rep explains, highlighting the user friendliness of the system by explaining that “The projector-depth camera units are individually auto-calibrating, self-localizing, and create a unified model of the room with no user intervention.”
To showcase its current state of development, Microsoft has released a RoomAlive demo on YouTube.
“RoomAlive is a crafty collusion of two relatively mature technologies: LCD projectors and Microsoft's Kinect motion-tracking system,” Lance Ulanoff wrote for Mashable.com. “Using Kinect Fusion room-modeling technology, the Kinect builds a detailed, depth-sensitive 3D map of the environment, this includes the floor, walls, furniture and anyone who is standing inside of it.”
“The tech then combines the room model with a Unity game engine plug-in and a motorized projector to display imagery that augments the look of the room and interacts with people inside it,” Ulanoff adds, explaining that “To fully cover a room or larger environment like the one in this video, Microsoft uses multiple projectors — each with its own Kinect and computer.”
Inevitable comparisons will be made to the current crop of headset-based immersive technologies, such as Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus, which while currently offering the benefits of higher quality and easy portability — a vital concern for much of the gaming market — suffer from a need to strap a device to your head.
Whereas Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus type devices enhance the user’s view of a scene, RoomAlive puts the user into the scene. A good comparison is in the difference between playing standard video game consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox or Sony’s PlayStation, versus the more “active” Nintendo Wii, which makes the user a more physical part of the experience, than the relatively static experience of the former devices.
As could be expected, any new immersive technology will be immediately scrutinized by tech oriented adult entertainment companies — with early discussions on the XBIZ.net community business network pointing to enthusiastic acceptance from both content consumers and producers alike. For example, Walker of Lairds Computer Services, succinctly summed up what will no doubt be a common sentiment, stating, “I am a Star Trek nerd. Of course I want a damned Holodeck!”
While that futuristic vision remains a matter for the future, Microsoft’s RoomAlive may be the closest to achieving this idealistic goal of full (and believable) immersion that has been seen to date, and deserves to be on every adult content producer and marketer’s radar.