Entertainment  on Steroids
Issue: Volume 36 Issue 6: (Sept/Oct 2013)

Entertainment on Steroids

With the rise of various devices, such as smartphones and tablets, entertainment is more exciting than ever! One thing I always enjoyed about SIGGRAPH was all the new technology on display, from the offbeat in Emerging Technologies to the here-and-now on the show floor. This year, I was especially drawn to the IllumiRoom, which featured peripheral projected illusions for interactive experiences. In short, it is an AR type of system from Brett Jones of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a trio from Microsoft Research that augments the area surrounding a television with projected visualizations to enhance gaming experiences. The system consists of a projector and a depth sensor that covers a wide area surrounding a TV screen. The TV provides a traditional high-res gaming experience, and the projector provides low-res information for the user’s peripheral vision. IllumiRoom doesn’t use flat, white projection screens, but instead adapts the projection to the existing viewing environment.

The system can change the appearance of the room, induce apparent motion, extend the field of view, and enable entirely new physical gaming experiences. And indeed, it did. Sitting on the couch being an observer of the gameplay, I felt as if I had been transported into the game as the system turned my physical surroundings into an alternate reality to match the style of the title: Suddenly my surroundings became “cartoonized” as the physical items in the room transformed, displaying saturated colors and black outlines. What’s more, it used the 3D data of the room for further effects. For example, a virtual grenade rolled out of the television, then bounced off the physical coffee table, and skidded on the floor. Currently the IllumiRoom is a proof-of-concept system (just as the Kinect once was) and could find its way to your living room in the near future.

More here-and-now is a different type of movie experience from Disney. In September (prior to this printing), the studio brought back The Little Mermaid to select theaters. But what was different this time was that audiences could download an app called Second Screen Live, enabling them to interact with the film, play games, and more during the screening. Perhaps such an app would work best with DVD and at-home releases, rather than in a crowded theater, though some of the games had each child competing against other moviegoers.

Another unique app that recently popped up is The Winston Show from ToyTalk. The company was founded by former Pixar tech and art gurus who are using proprietary technology to drive real-time, two-way interactions between a child and CG characters via a tablet, Internet connection, the cloud, voice recognition, microphone, camera, and more. What’s new and exciting here is that The Winston Show breaks through the fourth wall to deliver a believable new form of entertainment, whereby the CG characters play host within five different types of sketches (from costuming, to game shows, to a talk-show chat, and more) and the child becomes the star, or featured guest, if you will. And, the character becomes more intelligent with each interaction.

These are just a few of the emerging applications taking interactive entertainment to new levels for a new generation.