Current estimates put the gaming market as a $33 billion business worldwide. Furthermore, a recent Parks Study predicts the custom installation business will be a $20 billion dollar industry by the year 2012
These statistics suggest that the combination of the two industries in the next five years may represent close to a $65 billion gaming industry.
A recent gaming industry report says that online gaming is now outselling online video and audio. Given that, some may ask why there weren't more gamer-specific products at the CEDIA Expo. Nevertheless, the equipment that was there did not disappoint.
In the past, game consoles and many gaming-specific PCs were tasked with only needing to play games, and as integrators, we could set up specific optimized video settings for these devices based on the input of the display attached to the console.
Today's consoles, however, have game, video and film content residing on a single machine. The machines, typically plugged into a single input on a display device, store varied content types that require different settings on the monitor display device in order to deliver an optimized picture for our customers.
Gaming Goes 3-D
Radio and television scientists often talk about the difficulty involved in exploiting the often-elusive "Z" axis effect of images seeming to come off the two-dimensional TV screen.
There have been many attempts to demonstrate viable three-dimensional (3-D) imaging systems at past CEDIA Expos. Texas Instruments choose to dispel that notion about 3-D gaming not being ready as a mass market technology by allocating a majority of its CEDIA DLP booth for the demonstration of 3-D DLP TV applications, based on stereoscopic glasses and an emitter box that plugs into a special jack on the back of rear projection DLP TV's.
The emitter jack sends synchronization signals to a transmitter that then sends an IR signal to the special glasses that tell the shutters in the glasses when to open and close based on the cues that have been encoded on the content at 60 frames per second for each eye or 120 Hz for both eyes, which TI claims its DMD mirror system is able to easily handle.
There are also kits available from companies like DDD
that allow for real time encoding of non-encoded video and games as well as more elaborate offerings from SimpliFi
that include an optimized entertainment PC and two sets of the glasses.
All of Samsung's 88 and 89 series of rear projection DLPs have the ability to display 3-D images and have the requisite 3-D port -- the 88 series utilizing a standard color wheel-based light engine and the 89 series utilizing their new LED backlighting system.
All Mitsubishi's Diamond series DLP RP sets have the capability to produce 3-D video content and use their 6 Color DLP light engine as a backlighting source in models from 57 inches to 73 inches in size.
It is important to note that all the current DLP models from Samsung and Mitsubishi accept encoded 3-D content only through the HDMI or PC input jacks.
Having 1080 HD content plus inexpensive transmitter/glasses packages and displays that can input the HD content on now standard HDMI and PC jacks (married to a DLP DMD engine that can handle the 120HZ frame rate) makes this technology poised to take off in the next several years.
In fact, Insight Media's most recent 3-D Technology and Markets study cites growth of the current 3-D display market, currently at $180 million dollars this year, to $325 million in five years.
The solution to this problem was addressed at the show by the Anchor Bay VP50 Pro THX video processor. Now you can plug your console video output into any of its four HDMI 1.3 inputs.
You can also set up specific memory presets for your console's games, including two game modes that provide sub-one frame rate of latency with adaptive processing for current HD games or a 2 frame delay rate with edge and motion adaptive processing for older, less than stellar titles and last-generation consoles.
The demonstration that DVDO had in their booth, comparing the longer processing of games with that of their game processing mode, was effective. The demo showed that a typical display device's video processing circuits can introduce four to seven frames of delay -- sometimes as many as 17 -- in order to properly de-interlace an incoming gaming video signal.
This means that a players' reaction time and the time between the execution of an action on screen are minimized to the lowest level possible. That split second of delay, as any gamer can tell you, can be the difference in winning or losing an online or system link match.
What about your film- and video-based content from Xbox Live Marketplace and other online sources? They require a different set of processing methods, such as proper 3-2 pull-down and the addition of mosquito noise reduction to make them clearer.
With a simple change of the memory preset for that same console source, you can allow your customers to have a much better movie and video experience. In order to accomplish this, preset specific macros must be set up on the customer's remote or control system panel -- they have to remember to change to that preset mode when they change content sources.
Wouldn't it be great if somehow the content itself had a way of telling the device what it was and how it should be processed and handled?
Well, with THX's Blackbird initiative, media can have metadata associated with it that can inform devices in the same HDMI chain about its content, its ideal aspect ratio, video parameters and appropriate audio surround sound mode.
Leading the pack in supporting Blackbird is the DVDO VP50 Pro processor. All of the memory presets for content can be changed on the fly with this product, based on the content metadata that the VP50 HD sees at its HDMI inputs.
This enhanced intelligent switching will be especially important as consoles are utilized more as extenders and IPTV devices in addition to their traditional gaming roles.
Getting into Game Mode
For those who want to minimize the amount of video processing in the displays themselves, there were a variety of products and approaches shown on the CEDIA Expo floor.
Sharp has two specific LCDs -- the LC32GP1U and the LC37GP1U -- that feature a game specific mode called "Vyper Drive." Sharp's engineers came up with the mode after studying the needs of gamers' displays, which included less video processing and ideal contrast and brightness modes.
There is a specific mapped button on the remotes for these TVs that allow you to access the "Vyper Drive."
The remainder of Sharp's new line also has a gaming mode that is not as specifically tailored as "Vyper Drive," but does attempt to minimize processing time and can be accessed via a discrete IR command. Sharp's D64 series has panel response times of less than 4 milliseconds and, additionally, offers a 1:1 dot by dot mapping of the PC input, eliminating overscan and is a welcome feature for gamers.
Samsung has had a game mode in their LCD and DLP models for the last few years, designed to minimize processing time and adjust for optimal brightness, contrast and color temperature. They have now added this mode to their LED-based rear projection units, which feature enhanced black levels and very fast panel response times.
Mitsubishi's new diamond line of DLP rear projection units feature HDMI 1.3 inputs, have a pixel to pixel capability without overscan on their PC inputs, and are equipped for 3-D gaming capability.
Not to be left out, Pioneer's new KURO line of plasmas also features a game mode that one of their engineers says not only optimizes the gaming signal with minimal processing of one field of display, but also applies a special protection mode to the plasma panel.
Panasonic introduced its new PT-AX200 front projector with gaming mode that by having Major League gamer Tom "T-Squared" Taylor
demonstrate the difference the game mode makes on Halo 2, his preferred game.
T-Squared says that he has played Halo 2 so many times on so many different monitors that he can very quickly detect game lag induced by video processing and he "could not detect any with the Panasonic PT-AX200 in game mode."
Turn that 'Shhh' Up
At the show, THX announced that the Yamaha AVR RX-Z11 and the Pioneer receiver are the first Ultra 2 certified products to implement THX's new Loudness Plus technology, which is aimed at allowing apartment dwellers and those seeking family and spouse harmony in their open floor plan family room media areas to play and listen to their favorite games and watch movies at lower volume levels without losing the ambient details that the content's producers had intended.
The problem is that most movies and games are mixed for a reference level that is much louder than a typical residential customer is able to enjoy. Of course, the problem with playing games and watching movies at lower volume levels is that the surrounds never sound loud enough and the bass is weak.
So, unlike a typical Fletcher Munson loudness circuit that boosts the bass and treble at set points uniformly, the THX Loudness Plus applies two unique processes.
First, the THX Multi-Channel Spectral Balancing and THX Dynamic Ambiance Preservation employs spectral balancing to adjust the frequency response to "counter the perceptual loss of low- and high-frequency sound in all channels," as it was explained at CEDIA.
Spectral Balancing actually looks at the flat response of the reference level and adjusts the response higher as the user selects lower listening levels, but disengages at reference levels. THX Ambiance Preservation shapes the actual output levels of the surround channels in real time.
It is important to point out that both of the THX Loudness processes accomplish their results without dynamic compression. So, it's like having all the dynamic aspects of your favorite game or movie at a level that still makes for an engrossing experience without neighbors or family members banging on the door at night to turn the volume down.
At the show, Scott Evans of Microsoft's eHome group confirmed that the Xbox 360 can see and access content from a Windows Home Server. Furthermore, Scott explained, a Windows Home Server, a Vista Media Center and up to five additional Xbox 360s acting as extenders can all be utilized together at the same time in a digital home ecosystem to make for an optimized experience.
With the addition of a Windows Home Server, all the pictures and video content from a Vista Media Center can be stored onto the Windows Home Server. This allows all the hard drive space on the Vista Media Center to be used for recorded TV content.
The Xbox 360s can access the pictures and music from the Windows Home Server even if the Vista machine is not on. Moreover, that same content can be remotely accessed. That means, Scott says, that a quad CableCard tuner-capable Vista Media Center can stream four live TV streams and a prerecorded show to the extenders while also being able to output prerecorded content.
Was It Real or Was it D-Box?
The ultimate gaming product of the Expo, arguably, was the D-Box GP-200 gaming simulator, billed as the "ultimate gaming experience."
The chair itself sits on three D-Box brushless motors in silent operation, allowing for motion in three axes as well as tactile feedback. There is a separate computer that sits in front of the user and, in their CEDIA demo, D-Box chose to utilize three monitors in a panoramic configuration.
The translation of on-screen game play to the motion actuation motors involves the D-Box interface looking at 30 additional parameters of game information beyond what the developer has provided, processing them in real time by analyzing the DLL drivers.
To learn more about including gaming consoles and systems into installations, attend the custom gaming mini-camps of the first immersive gaming demonstration room at EHX
in Long Beach this November 7-9.
Andrew Finkel is the principal of Synergistic Wellness Technologies, a cross-industries gaming, consumer and home healthcare electronics consulting company.